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Chinese environmentalists target Apple

A customer tries out an Apple Inc. iPad 2 tablet computer at the Apple store on May 6, 2011 in Beijing, China.

Kai Ryssdal: Apple is, as most people know, a company that likes to let its products do the talking. Pretty much everything else -- from Steve Jobs' health to who makes the innards of all those iPhones and iPads -- is essentially off limits.

That brings us to today's story. A coalition of Chinese environmental groups is accusing Apple of ignoring some serious problems at the factories where its gadgets are put together. But Marketplace's Steve Henn reports -- thanks to the aforementioned secrecy -- tracking Apple's environmental footprint is way easier said than done.


Steve Henn: Researchers at the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing found evidence that factories suspected of supplying Apple with parts are poisoning waterways. Others factories believed to be working with Apple had been cited by the Chinese government for environmental violations.

Casey Harrell: Apple is coming under the spotlight here because of their lack of disclosure.

Casey Harrell is at Greenpeace. Harrell says environmentalists around the world want all tech companies -- Apple included -- to be much more transparent about their supply chains: who they're working with and what those factories are doing to the environment.

Harrell: If you can't measure it, we can't improve upon it. So we definitely push for sunshine.

Apple says it enforces "a strong environmental code of conduct" for all its suppliers; it audits them aggressively and publishes what it finds. But when it comes to naming names of firms it works with in China, Apple prefers to keep the competition in the dark.

Dale Ford: Apple is extremely secretive -- in fact, they are notorious for their secrecy.

Dale Ford is a supply chain analyst at IHS iSupply.

Ford: If you get an idea of who their suppliers are and who they are working with, you start to begin to speculate about what new features they are going to be implementing.

But if Apple doesn't disclose its suppliers or their environmental record to the public, Casey Harrell says Apple's consumers will never know exactly what their money is paying for.

In Silicon Valley, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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