Chinese Environmental Activists Dump on Apple

Last Updated Jan 19, 2011 6:14 PM EST

Apple (AAPL) has been the subject of human rights criticism within China over labor practices at the factories it uses. Now environmental activists have joined the finger wagging, putting Apple last on a list of 29 multinationals over how companies responded to criticism about pollution and occupational health hazards.

According to the Financial Times, a group of 36 Chinese environmental groups say that Apple has been unresponsive and uncommunicative when the groups tried to confront the company with charges:

In a report to be published on Thursday, the groups rank Apple last in a list of 29 multinational technology companies based on how each company dealt with inquiries about pollution and occupational health hazard incidents at factories in their supply chain.The report highlights the level of secrecy and lack of accountability in the complicated multilayered contracting system that dominates the manufacturing of technology products.
The groups praised a number of companies, including HP (HPQ), Alcatel-Lucent, Samsung, and Toshiba, for taking steps to address concerns. Others, such as LG, Sony (SNE), and Nokia (NOK), were noted as being uncooperative. However, it seems that Apple came in for the harshest words.

Some of the incidents about which Apple allegedly kept mum were cases of factory workers at a subsidiary of Wintek who were poisoned by a cleaning agent. Wintek makes touchscreens for Apple. But the environmental groups claim that Apple would not confirm or deny whether the factories in question were making products for it:

"Apple behaved differently from the other big brands and seemed totally complacent and unresponsive," said to Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a well-known Chinese NGO and the main author of the report. "Apple claims to be the global leader in supervising its supply chain but we found the reality to be very different. Not only did the company violate its own principles on environmental and worker safety standards in its supply chain but it completely refused to engage with NGOs or the affected workers."
It's not the first time that Apple has faced harsh words over its contracted factories in China. And the company has regularly undertaken its own Asian subcontractor report card, in which it actually goes further than many other corporations.

Apple has always been secretive. That it would refuse to comment is not terribly surprising. However, with all the good reasons a business might have to keep information out of the public eye, there comes a point at which the action is self-defeating. The attention Apple has now received goes to contradict its branding and creates negative publicity at a time that the company needs to calm public perception over CEO Steve Jobs taking another health-related leave of absence.

Related:

Image: morgueFile user ppdigital.
  • Erik Sherman On Twitter» On Facebook»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.