Guest post by Xiu Min Li at Pacific Environment, San Francisco.
Since late June, almost 1000 American consumers have written letters to Steve Jobs and Apple’s Public Relations Department urging them to address concerns of China’s Green Choice Alliance regarding heavy metal pollution from suppliers in China.
The IT industry is well known for its toxic legacy in its disposal cycle, but little attention has been paid to the environmental impacts of its production. In 2009, more than 4000 people, mostly children, were afflicted with lead poisoning in China inspiring the Green Choice Alliance to initiate a campaign to clean up multinational’s IT supply chains. The Alliance is taking action where the government is unable to, namely targeting brand-conscious multinationals to attract public and media attention to the cause.
The Alliance, using data from the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, wrote letters to each of the top multinational IT firms notifying them of Chinese suppliers that were contributing to China’s pollution. By late June, Apple was the only U.S.-based company that had not responded to the campaign.
Pacific Environment, as a US-based environmental organization that partners with Chinese NGOs to work on water pollution in China, decided to step in. After some initial communication with Apple’s representative, it became apparent that the company did not wish to discuss anything related to their suppliers. Apple refused to confirm or deny if these companies were suppliers and if the company was aware of the violations cited in the Green Choice Alliance’s April letter. Our subsequent follow-up with the company to seek clarity on our core questions and concerns also went unanswered.
On July 12, after 2 weeks and almost 1000 letters from American consumers, Apple finally broke its silence and agreed to have a transparent discussion with the Alliance. This progress is made possible by the incredible solidarity shown by the US public. It shows that sensible US consumers are concerned about US companies’ pollution overseas and are ready to take action to ensure the products we consume are not produced in ways that harm the environment or people anywhere on the planet.