Is Apple Polluting and Endangering the Health of Its Chinese Workers?

Apple factory

Apple recently emerged as a champion for environmental transparency with the introduction of its Apple and the Environment site, which offers up a lifecycle analysis of Apple products, packaging information, CO2 emissions and more. But Apple may not be as forthcoming as it claims. A group of 36 Chinese environmental groups accused the computer manufacturer this week of ignoring concerns about pollution and health issues in its Chinese factories.

The 26 page report (PDF in Chinese) ranks Apple last in a list of 29 technology companies based on worker safety and environmental standards, according to the Financial Times. The report lists a number of examples of Apple's negligence; in one 2009 case, 49 workers in a factory that produces touchscreens for Apple devices were poisoned with n-hexane, a chemical cleaning agent. The workers ended up with debilitating health problems--and Apple didn't respond to any of their complaints.

The Chinese environmental groups behind the report have tried to contact Apple, but to no avail. They claim that the company will not confirm or deny whether they contract with the polluting suppliers named in the report.

It's hard to say whether this will impact Apple's sales. The company has already dealt with a number of suicides at one of its suppliers, Foxconn, and that hasn't dented its reputation. But if Apple continues to ignore supply chain issues, the problems will only grow--and eventually, they will come back to haunt the company.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.