Sunday, May 08, 2011




Yesterday, across Europe and in China, demonstrations and events were staged as part of the ‘Make IT Fair’ Action Day. Their particular focus this year was Apple.

makeITfair is coordinated by the Dutch organisation SOMO (Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations).  It is a European project focusing on the electronics industry, especially on consumer electronics like mobile phones, laptops and MP3 players.

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They say: ‘We want to let young people across Europe know about the labour abuses and environmental problems that are going on right now around the world – just to satisfy our demand for all the latest electronic gadgets. And we want young people to get active to improve the situation. Together we can hold big brand electronics companies to account – asking them to take responsibility for the labour abuses and environmental damage at the bottom of their supply chain.’

SOMO hosts the website of GoodElectronics, the International Network on Human Rights and Sustainability in Electronics

Find out why makeITfair and Good Electronics are targeting Apple


Exhausted workers take their 10-minute break from the production lines at the Foxconn factory in China. Apple is one of Foxconn’s biggest clients.

Their giant factory in the industrial city of Shenzen employs almost half a million people. Wages are poor, overtime obligatory, management harsh. Workers have to stand for the whole of their shift and are not allowed to talk to their colleagues.

In May 2010, there was  a wave of workers (18 in total) at Foxconn who tried to commit suicide.

[Source: ‘The Story behind Apple’ by Leontien Aarnoudse)



‘The Other Side of Apple’ is a report by the Institute of Environmental and Public Affairs, a Beijing-based NGO, published in January this year, based on a nine-month study of working condition at seven locations in China. It ranks Apple last out of 29 global technology companies in terms of responsiveness and transparency to health and environmental concerns in China.

‘Since 2007, Apple has used a combination of style, design and innovative technology to create a sales frenzy over its iPad, iPhone, and other products.   

‘Whenever new Apple products go on sale, crowds of fans eager to be the first to get their hands on them line up overnight in cities like New York, London, Tokyo and Shanghai.

‘Behind their stylish image, however, Apple products have a side that many do not know about  - pollution and poison. This side is hidden deep within the company’s secretive supply chain, out of view from the public.

‘At the same time that Apple has been breaking sales records, workers making its products have been harmed by toxic chemicals.   Many of the employees who have been sickened still suffer physically  and emotionally.    Their labor rights and basic dignity have been ignored and their communities have been burdened with polluted water and air.

‘The year 2010 witnessed a rash of suicides at the company Foxconn, a major Apple supplier.  In all, twelve employees jumped from the tops of buildings, ten of them to their deaths.    The grief and pain of these ten young lives cut short is still felt today.    Given that Apple rarely discloses information regarding its supply chain, it is hard for the public to know Apple’s views, other than what was released in a simple statement which merely commented that it was “saddened and  upset by the recent suicides at Foxconn.” ‘


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‘Foxconn has reportedly sought the help of Buddhist monks and hired a hundred mental health professionals to counsel its factory workers. Concerns are growing regarding the pressures of factory life in China and the emotional vulnerability of young employees. ‘


Foxconn's walled Shenzhen factory complex, the Longhua Science & Technology Park, is a citadel, within a city within a megalopolis of 14 million people and growing. The Daily Mail dubbed it iPod City back in 2006 - since then its size has nearly doubled. Here Foxconn employs over 420,000 people - more than the population of Bristol (in fact there are only 9 cities in the UK with more people). With such a large migrant workforce, lacking residency permits (hukou), most employees live in company owned dormitories, and travel to work on company buses. The streets, buildings and infrastructure are all Foxconn built and owned.

In addition to its dozens of assembly lines and dormitories, Longhua has a fire brigade, hospital and employee swimming pool, where Mr. Gou (the founder of Hon Hai) does early morning laps when he is there. Restaurants, banks, a grocery store and an Internet cafe line the company town's main drag. More than 500 monitors around the campus show exercise programs, worker-safety videos and company news produced by the in-house television network, Foxconn TV. Even the plant's manhole covers are stamped "Foxconn."



‘Apple engineers refer to the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen – where the world’s iPads, iPods, Playstations, Nintendos and Kindles are assembled  - as ‘Mordor’

- Will Self, review of ‘Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next’ by John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay/London Review of Books


Foxconn  Hand iPhone Suicide Case to Chinese Police/

A Look Inside the Foxconn suicide factory/Daily Telegraph

Apple Boss Defends Conditions at iPhone factory/BBC

Foxconn Plans Brazil Factory for Apple Products /PC World


The latest Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics (published in October 2010) ranks Apple at No 9, down from No 5 the year before.

‘The guide ranks the 18 top manufacturers of personal computers, mobile phones, TVs and games consoles according to their policies on toxic chemicals, recycling and climate change. Last updated: October 2010. Our three goals for this guide are to get companies to:

  • Clean up their products by eliminating hazardous substances.
  • Take back and recycle their products responsibly once they become obsolete.
  • Reduce the climate impacts of their operations and products.

The entry on Apple reads as follows:

Apple does best on the toxic chemicals criteria, where it scores most of its points. All Apple products are now free of PVC vinyl plastic and brominated flame retardants (BFRs), with the exception of PVC-free power cords in countries where their safety certification process is still ongoing. For this Apple continues to score full marks (doubled). Apple scores points for its chemicals policy informed by the precautionary principle and for lobbying the EU institutions for a ban on PVC, chlorinated flame retardants and BFRs during the current revision of the EU’s RoHS Directive (Restriction of Hazardous Substances in electronics), but for full marks it needs to provide a public position on its support for immediate restrictions in RoHS 2.0 on organo- chlorine and bromine compounds. It also needs to clarify its stance regarding the position of the trade federation TechAmerica on further immediate restrictions and in particular PVC and BFRs. Apple scores only one point on information about its management of chemicals and its supply chain communications; this criterion evaluates disclosure of information flow in the supply chain. Apple also continues to score poorly for the minimal information it provides about its future toxic chemical phase-out plans.

Caption: Illustration showing hot and cool areas in a server row. Data centers visualize this information to ascertain areas of excessive heat and overcooling. Overcooled areas are a waste of energy and areas that are too hot jeopardize equipment performance.

Source: Datacenter Architecture for Environmental Sustainability - “Green Datacenters”

Greenpeace has more recently {April 2011]  produced a very interesting report on data centres: ‘How Dirty Is Your Data: A Look at the Energy Choices That Power Cloud Computing’

According to Greenpeace, the data centres which house the virtual information cloud, consume 1.5%-2% of the all global electricity at present. This is growing  at a the rate of 12% a year.

The report analyses the following companies: Akamai, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo.

They assess their use of renewable, use of coal, transparency, infrastructure siting and Mitigation Strategy. Yahoo came top, Apple came last.

Apple’s Mythical NC Data Center On Brink Of Reality

Source: ‘Apple’s Mythical NC Data Center On Brink of Reality’ by A.T. Faust [21st April 2011/

One of the major reasons for Apple’s mark down is their decision to locate a new Data Center in North  Carolina which, say Greenpeace, ‘has an electrical grid among the dirtiest in the country (61% coal, 31% nuclear) [which] indicates a lack of corporate comittment to clean energy supply for cloud operations….The massive iData Center has estimated electricity demand (at full capacity) as high as triple Apple’s current total reported electricity use, which will unfortunately have a significant impact on Apple’s environmental foot print.’

Here is Apple’s official website  statement: The Story Behind Apple’s Environmental Footprint

Here is the company’s first environmental statement - ‘A Green Apple’ by Steve Jobs, released on 4th May 2007. It makes interesting reading now.

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