Apple Under Fire for Lack of Social Responsibility in China

By Susan J. Campbell January 20, 2011

Apple is in the hot seat again. This time, according to this Associated Press report, the iPad maker has been accused by Chinese environmental groups of ignoring their concerns regarding the health and safety problems at factories that supply Apple with components.

A report issued recently by the three dozen groups, "The Other Side of Apple," lists Apple as the least responsive to concerns among more than two dozen technology companies that were surveyed.

The timing of the criticism is not great for Apple as it starts to open stores in China and push further into the overall Chinese market. According to reports from Apple issued this week, revenue from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan represented about 10 percent of its total revenue. At $2.6 billion, it represents four times the year-ago total.

This isn’t the first time Chinese environmental groups have criticized Apple. This latest report is significant, however, as it demonstrates a growing outspokenness in a society were dissent is normally suppressed by authorities. And, while these groups are labeled as environmentalists, their focus extends into other areas, such as worker rights.

Bad publicity has surrounded Apple in this part of the world since last year when several workers for one of its suppliers killed themselves in southern China. The workers were employed by contractor Foxconn Technology Group, which makes iPhones and other gadgets.

Wintek Corp., another contractor working for Apple making touchscreens, reportedly had workers getting sick as a result of the chemicals used in making the touchscreens.

Thousands of foreign companies have been drawn to China for the low wages and many have moved contracting production to Chinese companies or the local units of other foreign companies to boost profits. Activities say, however, that it makes it more of a challenge to track problems, such as dangerous working conditions. It also makes it more difficult to hold the contracted company liable.

Carolyn Wu, an Apple spokeswoman in China, said that the company is committed to ensuring that the highest standards of social responsibility are upheld. Wu apparently had no direct response to the most recent report.

Reportedly, Apple has not responded to repeated requests for information on problems that its suppliers have experienced in the past year. The report issued by the environmental groups argues that Apple has the responsibility if their suppliers do not perform. And, in some cases, Apple will not even confirm whether or not a particular company is even a supplier.

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Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TechZone360 and has also written for eastbiz.com. To read more of Susan’s articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

TechZone360 Contributing Editor

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