Last week Apple got itself into trouble when NGO’s accused the successful IT company to make a profit while damaging China’s environment and workers’ health. It linked 27 suppliers of Apple to a wide range of well-researched environmental problems. It was not the first time: in 2009 started investigations into a range of IT companies were also accused, and this report was a followup with a focus on Apple.
The report itself hardly triggered a serious reaction from Apple, apart from an obligatory statement (from the NY Times) that Apple “is committed to driving the highest standards of social responsibility throughout our supply chain.” I do not think this is the only answer Apple is going to give, and it should not be, because it might find itself in bigger trouble than after previous environmental reports by NGO’s. In the past Apple did promise to compensate workers who were exposed to n-hexane, but the lack of results here was one of the reasons for the followup report.
By focusing on Apple, the NGO’s have taken a clever target. While some of the Apple suppliers are also sometimes partly owned by foreign companies, including Japanese, Apple has become more vulnerable for environmental pressure. As the NGO report shows, local authorities have already been very active in going after the culprits, but local environmental agencies had until recently seldom enough leverage to get enough done. Economic growth used to be higher on the agenda than environmental protection.
That has changed over the past few years, as has the position of Apple changed. The company has become wildly successful under the aspiring middle class and its stores have been so successful, they have been illegally copied all over the country. But success comes also with new responsibilities. Not only environmental activists, but also government agencies and Chinese media take a much more aggressive stand when it comes to environmental damage. And foreign companies are even higher on the agenda.
When Apple wants to know what might be next for them in the pipeline, they should ask Conoc0Phillips China (COPC). Last Monday, they felt the wrath of the official Chinese media, who charged the company who is held responsible for a two-month oil leakage in the Bohai Sea. “Public fury feverish over Bohai oil leakage,” was the headline by the People’s Daily, after the company was ordered to cease its operation. And in other article it wrote:
“Time after time, delays, negligence, cover-ups and cheating, ConocoPhillips China’soil field operation was finally stopped by China’s maritime authority,” said the article on the flagship newspaper of the Communist Party of China.
ConocoPhillips China (COPC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Houston-headquartered ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP), has complied with a suspension order,said a statement on the company’s website.
It does not take too much imagination to replace Conoc0Phillips by Apple. And with a bit more imagination you see some of the victims of the environmental damage in front of the prestigious Apple store in Lujiazhia in Shanghai, interviewed by a large number of Chinese media. The time Apple – and others – could ignore those high-profile environmental claims and try to settle them behind closed doors is over. What a nice picture that would be on Chinese TV, and worldwide.
When it comes to environmental damage, it is no longer business as usual for foreign companies and it would make sense for Apple to spend a part of the revenues it gets on cleaning up the mess it has caused.
- Apple Suppliers Causing Environmental Problems, Chinese Group Says (nytimes.com)
- ConocoPhillips defends handling of China oil spill (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Apple criticized for China supply chain pollution (news.cnet.com)
- Apple to Open First Hong Kong Store (dailyfinance.com)
- Apple blasted for toxic waste spewed by iDevice suppliers (go.theregister.com)