In the past year, Apple has come under fire for the practices of its manufacturing partners particularly those of Foxconn and other partners in China. The controversies started earlier this year when Apple’s manufacturing partner, Foxconn, faced protests in which workers threatened suicide amidst worsening working conditions. Controversies and reports continued to pour in of labour violations and infractions by Apple’s manufacturing partners. These reports included child labour allegations, harsh labour conditions, exposure to harmful substances and also allegations of underpaid workers. Apple chose to undertake a four month audit of its partners in light of these allegations and reports.
In light of the findings of the audit, Apple has chosen to ban two hazardous substances: benzene and n-hexane. Benzene is a widely used organic compound in the manufacturing industry as a solvent and starting compound. It is also a well known carcinogen which linked to bone marrow failure causing leukemia. On the other hand, the compound n-hexane is used as a cleaning agent and also diluent in the industry. Exposure to the compound has been linked to disturbances and problems relating to the human nervous system. Therefore, the elimination of the compounds in the announcement comes as no surprise. However, Apple affirms that it has found no violations in the levels of these compounds in the facilities managed by their partners. In fact, Apple’s report showed that only four of the twenty two facilities audited showed traces of the two compounds nonetheless Apple asserts that the levels of these compounds were in “acceptable safety levels”.
Be that as it may, Apple has not made the ban a standard for its whole production line, only in the final stages of production. The tech giant will still allow the use of benzene and n-hexane in the early stages of production. Most of these stages of assembly are separate from the final assembly plants.
“This is a good first step…I hope they will continue to remove the most dangerous chemicals to human health or find ways to reduce the exposure.”
Campaign Director Green America
The move, which comes after four months of petitions and intensifying protests, has garnered the praise of various agencies including Green America and Greenpeace. It is also lauded as an industry leading move in minimising exposure to the carcinogens and also in efforts to minimize environmental impact.
“This shows Apple can use its market muscle and influence to identify cleaner practices… It would be great to see that list get shorter, not just in terms of protecting worker safety but in terms of protecting air quality and water quality.”
Senior Information Technology Analyst, Greenpeace