Eighty Organizations Call On Apple’s Lisa Jackson To Stop Off-Shoring Worker Health and Safety Risks

On June 10, 2014, the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) joined more than 80 environmental and human rights organizations, and occupational health professionals to send a letter to Lisa Jackson, Vice President of Environmental Affairs at Apple, calling on the company to remove hazardous chemicals from its supplier factories in an effort to protect workers from grave illnesses.

Jackson is the former administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). At the USEPA, Jackson monitored benzene levels in the water and air to ensure no one was exposed to dangerous levels of this known human carcinogen. Jackson is now in a unique position to make worker health and safety a priority in her second year at Apple.

Electronics manufacturing is a huge and evolving industry in which despite laws to protect worker safety and corporate codes of conduct, workers are getting sick as a result of occupational exposure to dangerous chemicals. The groups are specifically calling on Jackson to use her influence to eliminate and replace all hazardous chemicals used in Apple’s Chinese supplier factories with safe alternatives.

The letter notes that Apple’s workers overseas could be exposed to more than three times the amount of hazardous chemicals legally permissible in the U.S, due to longer hours of work.  Workers in Apple supplier factories in China have been known to work up to 12 hours per day, and average 60 hours or more per week (according to 2013 investigations by China Labour Watch and the Fair Labour Association).

The letter from the groups, available here (www.greenamerica.org/bad-apple/letter-to-lisa-jackson.cfm) notes that despite Apple’s Code of Conduct, 1.5 million workers are at risk for developing leukemia and other illnesses at work. Thousands of chemicals are used in the process of making electronics devices, including many chemicals known to be carcinogens, reproductive toxins, neurotoxins and others that are largely untested.

Apple does not disclose a full list of the chemicals used in production, but two chemicals known to be used and of immediate concern include benzene and n-hexane, both of which have been linked to worker illness in Apple supplier factories.  The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer  (IARC) classifies benzene in Group 1 as it is known to be carcinogenic to humans and the US EPA classifies benzene in Group A, as a known human carcinogen for all routes of exposure.  Prolonged exposure to benzene can cause leukemia.  N-hexane is a neurotoxin that can cause nerve damage.

Another chemical of concern, due to its ubiquitous use in electronics manufacturing, is industrial alcohol, which is more dangerous than simple rubbing alcohol and contains 5-10% methanol. Without proper precautions, long-term exposure to this substance can cause nerve damage and blindness.

As one of the biggest, most profitable, and most advanced high-tech companies in the world, Apple should have sophisticated means of tracking chemicals used, chemical exposure levels, and worker health and safety issues in its supplier factories. Apple already has such a system in place for the monitoring of product quality in factories; the same standard should be applied to human health.

The groups called on Apple to stop the use of the most dangerous, toxic chemicals in Apple supplier factories and replace them with safer alternatives. Apple was also urged to create a fund to pay for the treatment of workers who suffer illness or injury from on-the-job exposures and ensure that all workers injured while making Apple products receive adequate treatment.

Workers in Apple’s supplier factories work long, hard hours in hopes of a better future for themselves and their families. In Malaysia too there are more than 500,000 workers in the electric and electronics industry. These workers are putting their trust in their employers and the brands for which they produce that they will not be poisoned by simply showing up to work and breathing the air or using their hands.

As consumers of these devices we must not contribute to worker harm.  Individuals wishing to take action on their smartphones to ensure the next iPhone is made without dangerous chemicals can visit www.greenamerica.org/bad-apple/app.cfm To date, 20,000 consumers have signed a petition to Apple as part of the “Bad Apple” campaign.

Press Statement – 13 June 2014

Note: The letter to Lisa Jackson and the signatories can be viewed at http://www.greenamerica.org/PDF/2014-BadApple-LettertoLisaJackson.pdf