Apple has consistently been under fire in international media for its labor practices — most of the conflict stemming from the suicides at Foxconn over the last few years, Apple’s main manufacturer based in Taiwan. Foxconn itself has been notorious for its labor abuse, having broken overtime restrictions, and been in the spotlight for extremely rough worker conditions that have been the subject of concern for Taiwanese, Chinese, and U.S. labor authorities. Labor groups in both China and the U.S. have now singled out Apple in their call for international labor reforms. 

The Guardian reports that China Labor Watch and Green America are calling upon Apple — as well as other tech giants including Samsung, Dell, and HP — to overhaul their labor practices to include better chemical safety in manufacturing spaces. While, in the past, many actual employees of Foxconn in its China outlets have taken to the streets to protest the inhumane working conditions, these groups are focusing on specific uses of solvents called n-hexane and benzene in manufacturing plants. 

N-hexane has been the focal point of some past poisoning issues, can cause nerve damage, and possible paralysis. Benzene can cause leukemia and reproductive abnormalities. Both are used in electronic components of Apple’s devices.

And, as the chemicals are known to be toxic, cause illnesses, and are exposed to workers, the NGOs say that Apple could employ substitute chemicals that are ultimately much less harmful for not a huge price difference. The Guardian quotes Kevin Slaten, program coordinator at China Labor Watch:

“Together with Green America, we demand that Apple takes responsibility and removes chemicals like the solvents n-hexane and the carcinogen benzene, which is known to cause leukaemia providing its workers with a legal standard of welfare.”

Apple has responded that it requires its suppliers to meet the safety standards for exposure to both chemicals as set forth by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Of course, this complaint and urge by global NGOs is just another in a long line of complaints from various bodies decrying Apple’s labor practices. But perhaps starting with educating workers — which is where Slaten described the first step must be — will be a helpful beginning in rectifying the malpractice.


Further reading:

Apple updates compliance figures on supply chain partners

Google, Apple hit with antitrust labor suit 

Taiwanese court fines Apple for iPhone price manipulation