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Apple Begins to Improve Working Conditions at Supplier Plants
By Dan Sherman

Apple’s suppliers have had a murky history with working conditions. Eighteen workers attempted suicide in one facility in 2010 and one died of exhaustion because of the working conditions at the plant.

The response from the supplier? Force employees to sign non-suicide agreements and install nets on the buildings. Two years later, 150 workers threatened mass suicide over abysmal working conditions.

At the time, Apple’s response was to wag a stern finger, sending then COO Tim Cook to inspect the plant. Recently, however, Apple appears to be doing more to ensure workers safety and health at supplier facilities. The company has investigated working conditions at all of their final production facilities and has begun protecting workers from benzene and n-hexane by eliminating them from the production process.

According to the Center for Disease Control,“benzene causes harmful effects on the bone marrow and can cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia. It can also cause excessive bleeding and can affect the immune system, increasing the chance for infection.” Long term exposure is known to cause cancer, including leukemia and blood-forming organ cancers, and has been shown to cause birth abnormalities in animals.

According to the ATDSR toxicology report on n-hexane, exposure in the workplace during the 1960’s and 1970’s created the following symptoms: “…the affected workers had was [sic] a feeling of numbness in their feet and hands. This was followed by muscle weakness in the feet and lower legs. If exposure continued, the symptoms grew worse. In some workers, paralysis of the arms and legs developed. When the affected workers were examined by doctors, the nerves controlling the muscles in their arms and legs were found to be damaged.”

Thanks to Apple’s changes, workers will no longer be exposed to benzene or n-hexane, and thus can lead healthier, safer lives. To date, Apple has inspected only 22 of their 349 Chinese facilities and has yet to eliminate the use of the aforementioned chemicals in their entire assembly line. Nevertheless, this is an important step in the right direction and Apple deserves recognition for the changes they have made to improve the safety and health of their workers.

 

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Posted: September 8, 2014