Investors, asset managers and businesses have signed an open letter to Lisa Jackson, vice-president of environmental initiatives at American tech giant Apple, urging her to eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals in the firm’s supplier factories.
According to the letter, workers in the Chinese factories that manufacture Apple’s devices are exposed to more than three times the amount of hazardous chemicals legally permissible in the US.
It says that though Apple has not disclosed a full list of the chemicals used in production, two chemicals – benzene and n-hexane – have been linked to worker illness in supplier factories.
Exposure to n-hexane can cause nerve damage and paralysis, while benzene is a known carcinogen, which can cause leukaemia.
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“As a global technology leader, Apple can and should be the first consumer electronics company to implement reforms to protect workers from hazardous chemicals”, said Elizabeth O’Connell, campaigns director for Green America, the NGO that is leading the campaign.
“Apple has the financial resources to make these changes and the global leadership to make it count.
“Apple is not alone in these offences, but its leadership is needed to make worker health and safety reforms a broader priority within the technology industry.”
Though Apple’s 2014 Supplier Responsibility Report does not refer to either n-hexane or benzene, it does state that “suppliers shall identify, evaluate, and control worker exposure to hazardous chemical, biological, and physical agents”, and “suppliers must eliminate chemical hazards where possible”.
In a statement published in March, Apple also said, “Last year, we conducted nearly 200 factory inspections which focused on hazardous chemicals, to make sure those facilities meet our strict standards.”
However, the letter notes that there is no evidence apparent in Apple’s responsibility reports that the firm has measured the levels of hazardous chemicals or worker illness in its supplier factories.
“Without this basic information, there is no way for Apple to know when, where, and how many workers are getting sick from chemical exposure,” it says.
The letter – signed by executives from the Investor Environmental Health Network, Zevin Asset Management and Progressive Asset Management, among others – demands that Apple eliminates all hazardous chemicals from its supplier factories and creates a fund to pay for the treatment of affected workers.
Green America has also launched a consumer petition, urging Apple to better protect Chinese workers.
Despite these fresh concerns, Apple has won the acclaim of environmentalists in recent months, in particular for its investment in renewable energy. In April, the firm revealed that 94% of its corporate facilities and 100% of its data centres were now powered by clean energy sources.