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|1. What is the problem with smartphone sweatshops?|
Smartphones, like many electronics, are regularly made in factories where workers do not have adequate training or protective gear for handling toxic substances. 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.
Factories use hundreds of chemicals in the electronics manufacturing process—some are known carcinogens and reproductive toxins, and others are largely untested. Manufacturers do not readily disclose the chemicals they are using. Protective gear and rigorous trainings on safe handling are needed but often not enforced, and problems of exposure are sometimes not detected until workers are already sick.
Apple must commit to eliminating benzene and other chemicals known to be harmful to human health from its supply chain to prevent more workers from losing their lives or livelihoods because of occupational illnesses from making iPhones.
|2. How big is this problem?|
Seventy-five percent of the world’s population owns a cell phone, billions of which are made in China. In the United States, there are nearly 330 million active cell phones, more than one phone per person. As manufacturers rush to meet the rising demand for new and ever-cheaper consumer electronics, they often sacrifice the health and safety of workers.
An estimated 1.5 million people work in Apple’s final supplier factories in China. In all, more than 12 million people work in the electronics sector in China, or roughly the number of people that live in Illinois or Pennsylvania.
It’s difficult to quantify exactly how many workers have been diagnosed with occupational poisoning in China and human rights experts that incidents are underreported. One 2010 study, “The current status of occupational health in China”, 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:
Enterprises with occupational hazards were widely distributed, the exposed population and cases of occupational diseases were numerous, and occupational risks were being transferred from the city to the countryside and from developed areas to developing ones.
Journal of Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, June 2010
|3. Why is this campaign focusing on Apple?|
Apple is the smartphone pioneer, 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 (like Foxconn, Pegatron, Quanta, Primax) and its competitors. There are safer alternatives to the most dangerous chemicals available, and Apple can take the lead in using them.
Apple is also highly profitable. Removing dangerous chemicals from its supply chain is not expensive and something Apple can easily afford to do. In the US, Apple has a strong commitment to the health of its employees, which should extend to its workers in China and other countries. Industry experts have estimated it would cost Apple roughly less than $1 per phone to eliminate the most dangerous chemicals.
Finally, Apple cares about what its customers want, and there are many of them. In 2013, the iPhone 4S was the single most popular smartphone, with more than 97 million sold worldwide. Apple customers are devoted, but hold Apple to a higher standard and expect the company to act responsibly.
This campaign is not calling for a consumer boycott of Apple products. Rather, we are asking Apple customers to raise their voices to a company they patronize, and to avoid needlessly upgrading their devices until Apple has made changes to protect workers.
|4. What are the demands of the campaign?|
- Eliminate Toxic Chemicals.
Stop the use of the most dangerous, toxic chemicals in Apple supplier factories and replace them with safer alternatives.
Factories making Apple products use toxic chemicals that cause cancer (carcinogens such as benzene), chemicals that cause birth defects and miscarriages (reproductive toxins such as toluene), and chemicals that cause brain damage (neurotoxins such as n-hexane). Apple must identify and disclose all chemicals used in supplier factories as well as those in all Apple products. In situations where the danger of a chemical is unknown, Apple must require proper testing. Apple must institute and enforce appropriate exposure monitoring, medical monitoring, and effective training and management systems must be in place to ensure worker health and safety. Supplier factories must provide workers with adequate safety training and protective gear free of charge.
- Ensure Adequate Medical Treatment.
Create a fund to pay for the treatment of injured workers and ensure that all workers injured while making Apple products receive adequate treatment. For workers struggling to access care, Apple and its supplier factories must institute a safe and rapid mechanism for workers to report illnesses.
- End Worker Abuse.
Apple and its supplier factories must ensure compliance with the ILO’s eight Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, article 32 on the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, and national laws regarding occupational health and safety, worker benefits, and minimum wage for all workers, including young, migrant workers. Apple and its suppliers must ensure worker empowerment to effectively oversee and enforce these rights without interference or retaliation from management.
|5. What is benzene and what is it used for? Are there suitable alternatives?|
Benzene is an industrial solvent that can be used to make other chemicals, polymers, plastics, glues, lubricants, or detergents.
The EPA classifies benzene as a Group A carcinogen (most risky and definitely harmful) for all routes of exposure. Exposure to benzene can cause leukemia and other blood disorders, as well as reproductive problems and danger to fetuses. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set a permissible exposure limit of 1 ppm in the workplace during an 8-hour workday, 40-hour workweek. China’s permissible limit is 1.878 ppm, however the norm for workers in Apple factories is 60-hour workweeks and workers are not reliably provided with necessary safety equipment and training.
There are suitable and safer alternatives for benzene that are only slightly more expensive. The Ban Benzene campaign has identified cyclohexane and heptane as possible substitutions for benzene in electronics-manufacturing. Contract free, the iPhone 5S sells for $750 on average, with a profit margin of 54 percent, meaning Apple earns $405 per phone after expenses. Slightly more expensive, less-deadly chemicals are within reach.
|6. What other chemicals are of concern and what are the alternatives?|
In 2011, Greenpeace succeeded in pushing global footwear manufacturers including NIKE, adidas, and Puma to commit to a roadmap to remove and reduce 11 priority chemical groups from their supply chains and replace them with safer alternatives. This list is a good place to start, however, the electronics sector is reliant on hundreds of chemicals that are less known, tested, and regulated than those on this list. Companies using unregulated chemicals must take extra precautions to ensure worker health and safety by instituting a Hierarchy of Controls. In this system, elimination and engineering controls are most important, personal protective equipment is the last resort, as it is least effective.
The International Chemical Secretariat (ChemSec) has created helpful resources for businesses on hazardous chemicals and suggestions for substitution. Their Substitute It Now (SIN) List details 626 hazardous chemicals for which substitutes should be made to ensure a safer, toxic-free world. They also provide free assistance for chemical substitution via SUBSPORT, their substitution support portal.
|7. What about Apple’s Supplier Responsibility report and Code of Conduct?|
On February 13, 2014, Apple released its eighth annual supplier responsibility progress report. While Apple has taken steps to be more transparent about its sourcing practices, it does not reveal the chemicals used in its supplier factories, nor prohibit dangerous substances, such as benzene and n-hexane. SACOM has criticized this report for misrepresenting worker benefits.
Apple’s code of conduct states that all workers shall receive proper training and protective gear and have the right to refuse work they deem unsafe. However, Apple’s history of rush orders and strong desire to keep per-unit profit margins high does not create an environment in which workers feel safe in voicing concerns without fear of repercussions.
|8. I heard about problems in Apple factories on This American Life, but the story was retracted. What’s new?|
ANSWER: In January 2012, the radio program This American Life aired a segment entitled ‘Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory’ about working conditions at electronics factories in China. This American Life later retracted the story because it learned that the presenter, Mike Daisey, had fabricated some of his experiences and sources. The show was retracted solely due to Mr. Daisey’s behavior, and had nothing to do with the actual treatment of workers. Major media outlets, and research and advocacy groups continue to report on the terrible quality of life for workers in electronics factories in China. It is still important to speak up and push Apple to improve working conditions for all of its workers.
|9. What about other smartphone/cell phone manufacturers?|
Unfortunately Apple is not alone in manufacturing electronic devices in dangerous factories (in China and elsewhere), and no electronics manufacturer has committed to removing dangerous chemicals from their supply chain. Samsung, Sony, Nokia, Blackberry and others all make phones at factories in China and elsewhere with health and safety concerns. Workers need urgent, sector-wide reform to protect their rights and safety.
|10. Is there a good phone to buy?|
The best way to ensure your next phone does not contribute to worker abuse is to buy a used or refurbished phone, or repair the phone you have. This ensures your purchase does not add to the growing demand for new, exploitative phones.
Mobile Karma is a great resource for used phones, and they help to divert phones from ending up in landfills.
iFixit is also a great resource to learn how to repair your electronics and order needed parts.
You can also refuse to upgrade your phone as often as advertised to avoid contributing to increasing demand for electronics.
|11. What about other problems, like conflict minerals and e-waste?|
Sadly, the problems with phones do not start or end at the factory. Conflict minerals, such as tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold, are commonly used to make electronics components and are often mined in conflict regions, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Demand for these minerals finances warlords and can lead to forced and child labor.
Thanks to a 2012 law (The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, section 1502) American companies sourcing conflict minerals will be required to disclose and ensure their raw materials are not contributing to conflict in the Congo starting May 31, 2014.
The FairPhone, released on a limited basis in Europe in 2013, is believed to be the first smartphone available free of conflict-minerals.
High demand for newer, faster, better smartphones also produces an astonishing amount of electronic waste. US consumers dispose of an estimated 140 million phones each year. This New York Times exposé details the afterlife of cellphones which can leach toxic chemicals into landfills or end up in massive dumps in countries throughout Asia and Africa where unprotected workers sort through the waste to salvage resellable scrap metal and minerals. This is very hazardous work.
The Story of Stuff Project made a great film explaining how we’ve ended up with so much electronic waste and where it ends up.
|12. How can I purchase and dispose of my electronics more responsibly?|
To donate a still-working phone to a good cause you can check out Cell Phones for Soldiers.
iFixit is a great resource to learn how to repair your electronics and order needed parts.
You can also refuse to upgrade your phone as often as advertised to avoid contributing to increasing demand for electronics.
|13. I like my Apple products. What should I do?|
ANSWER: If you are an Apple aficionado, take action with us! Apple needs to hear from its most loyal consumers that improving worker health and safety is a number one priority. Sign our petition and consider calling Apple to voice your concerns at 408.996.1010. If you attend Apple trainings at local Apple stores or visit the Genius Bar, you can let the staff know of your concerns, as they share them with Apple’s headquarters.
You can also choose not to upgrade your iPhone as frequently as advertised. Apple products can last several years. Get the full life out of your electronics before discarding them for a new one.
|14. I own Apple shares. What should I do?|
If you own Apple shares it is very important for Apple to hear from you! You can write to the company as a shareholder here.
|15. Where can I learn more?|
ANSWER: There are many great resources to learn more about labor issues in the electronics sector. Here are a few we recommend:
- Ban Benzene Campaign
- Basel Action Network
- China Labor Watch
- Economic Policy Institute’s Apple Labor
- Electronics Take Back Coalition
- Electronics Watch
- Good Electronics
- International Campaign for Responsible Technology
- International Labor Rights Forum
- Make IT Fair
- Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior
|16. Who is behind this campaign?|
ANSWER: The End Smartphone Sweatshops campaign is led by Green America, a not-for-profit membership organization founded in 1982. Green America’s mission is to harness economic power—the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace—to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.
|17. How can I get more involved?|
ANSWER: If you would like to support the campaign or participate in events please email Elizabeth, campaign director, at eoconnell (at) greenamerica (dot) org. We would love to hear from you!