Green America: Growing the Green Economy for People and the Planet

New Campaign Calls on Apple to End Worker Poisoning in iPhone and Other Supplier Factories

Ending “Bad Apple” Devices: It Could Take Just a Dollar Per Device to Fix Apple’s Poisonous Practices; Green America Takes on Apple After Success in Changing General Mills’ Cheerios.

March 12, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC -- With more than a million workers in Apple supplier factories in China at risk for exposure to toxic substances on the assembly line, U.S. consumers should consider putting a hold on planned purchases or upgrades of iPhones, iPads, and other Apple devices, according to “Bad Apple:  End Smartphone Sweatshops” (www.bad-apple.org), a major new campaign launched today by the nonprofit organization Green America. 

The campaign also encourages all Apple customers to express their concerns to Apple directly via an online petition (http://www.greenamerica.org/bad-apple/take-action.cfm) In recent months, Green America scored a major success with a similar social media-based campaign that pressured General Mills into dropping GMOs in original Cheerios.

Most consumers would be surprised to learn that Apple could curb the toxic threat to 1.5 million people working in supplier factories in China for as little as $1 in additional cost per device.   The threat to Chinese workers is outlined in a new short film released as part of the campaign:  Who Pays the Price?  The Human Cost of Electronics (www.whopaysfilm.org).

An estimated 1.5 million people work in Apple’s supplier factories in China. Smartphones, including iPhones, are regularly made in factories where workers do not have adequate training or protective gear for handling toxic substances. According to the EPA’s Air Toxics website, exposure to dangerous chemicals can lead to cancer, leukemia, nerve damage, liver and kidney failure, and reproductive health issues, depending on the chemical and level of exposure. 

Protective gear and rigorous trainings on safe handling are needed but not always enforced, and problems of exposure are sometimes not detected until workers are already sick. It’s difficult to quantify exactly how many workers have been diagnosed with occupational poisoning in China and it is widely believed that incidents are underreported. One 2010 study in the Journal of Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine showed that between 1991 and 2008, 42,890 work-place poisonings had been documented with a mortality rate of 16.5 percent. It concluded that the situation of occupational health in China is still serious.

“Apple is a highly popular brand, one that consumers trust and expect to act responsibly,” said Elizabeth O’Connell, campaigns director at Green America.  “Apple is also highly profitable so it can easily afford to do right by its workers and make the necessary changes to appeal to its socially-conscious consumers.”

China Labor Watch joined the two organizations announcing today’s campaign, in order to call attention to the plight of Chinese workers in Apple factories.

“Manufacturers adapt to the ever-tightening price and time demands of consumer electronics brand companies by lowering costs through longer hours, faster work, less worker safety training, and the use of harmful chemicals,” said Kevin Slaten, program coordinator of China Labor Watch. “Even knowing what it means for the people making its products, Apple continues to maximize profits through such demands. In the end, the price for profit maximization is paid for by Apple’s workers.”

“The changes required for Apple to switch to less-toxic chemicals in its manufacturing facilities and offer real worker training are estimated to cost Apple roughly $1 per phone, if even that,” said Associate Communications and Journalism Professor Jack Qiu and advisor to the Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM). “Apple is clearly unwilling to share its success with frontline workers, thus depriving them of a safe and decent place to work.  While each iPhone boasts it was ‘designed by Apple in California,’ the true story is that it was made in China by a worker Apple is quick to ignore.”

Apple is the smartphone pioneer and seen as a leader in the consumer electronics market. As a massive global company, Apple has the power to improve working conditions throughout the electronics-manufacturing sector by influencing both its suppliers (i.e. Foxconn, Pegatron, Quanta, Primax) and its competitors.

Apple is also highly profitable, earning $37 billion in profits in 2013.  On average, Apple’s profit margins on iPhones are close to 40 percent, higher than any of Apple’s competitors. Industry experts have estimated that Apple could remove dangerous chemicals from its supply chain for less than $1 per phone.

To learn more about Bad Apple: End Smartphone Sweatshops, watch Who Pays the Price?  The Human Cost of Electronics, and take action visit www.bad-apple.org.

ABOUT THE GROUPS

Green America is the nation’s leading green economy organization. Founded in 1982, Green America (formerly Co-op America) provides the economic strategies, organizing power and practical tools for businesses, investors, and individuals to solve today’s social and environmental problems. http://www.greenamerica.org.

Founded in 2000, China Labor Watch (CLW) is an independent not-for-profit organization.  CLW has collaborated with unions, labor organizations and the media to conduct a series of in-depth assessments of factories in China that produce toys, bikes, shoes, furniture, clothing, and electronics for some of the largest U.S. companies. CLW’s New York office creates reports from these investigations, educates the international community on supply chain labor issues, and pressures corporations to improve conditions for workers. www.chinalaborwatch.org

Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) is not-for-profit organization founded in Hong Kong in June 2005. SACOM aims at bringing concerned students, scholars, labor activists, and consumers together to monitor corporate behavior and to advocate for workers’ rights.  www.sacom.hk

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