Tech giant Apple has banned the use of two hazardous chemicals in its production line, after investors urged the firm to better protect the workers in its supply chain.
The firm announced in a statement this week that benzene and n-hexane would no longer be used in its production plants, though it insisted it had found no evidence that workers had been harmed.
However, in June investors expressed concern over the chemicals’ use in Chinese factories. Exposure to n-hexane can cause nerve damage and paralysis, while benzene is a known carcinogen, which has been linked to leukaemia.
In an open letter to Lisa Jackson, vice-president of environmental initiatives at Apple, investors, asset managers and businesses therefore demanded that Apple eliminate all dangerous chemicals from its supplier factories.
The campaign group Green America also launched a consumer petition, urging Apple to better protect Chinese workers.
Responding to the campaign, Jackson said, “Apple treats any allegations of unsafe working conditions extremely seriously.
“We took immediate investigative action, sending specialised teams into each of our 22 final assembly facilities, and found no evidence of workers’ health being put at risk.”
Apple has also pledged to invest in the research on new materials and technologies, and assemble a new advisory board of experts on safer chemicals and pollution prevention.
The firm also published its regulated substances guidelines, which had previously been kept confidential.
“Our history proves that the electronics industry can make use of green chemistry. It’s time now to do even better, and we are eager to take on this challenge,” Jackson added.
Campaigners have welcomed Apple’s commitment, but have urged the iPhone manufacturer to go further.
“Beyond benzene and n-hexane, there are thousands of chemicals used in the manufacturing of electronics – some of which are largely untested – and many chemicals used by Apple suppliers remain undisclosed,” Green America said in a statement.
“Additionally, while Green America applauds Apple for investigating all its final assembly plants in China, the nonprofit is urging Apple to look deeper into its supply chain, to the second and third tier suppliers, where chemical usage and safety procedures are less controlled,” the statement added.
Aside from supply chain issues, 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.