Aug. 09, 2022
The New iPhone and the Silent Face of the Pollution Challenge

The New iPhone and the Silent Face of the Pollution Challenge

Ma Jun, Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs,
June 12, 2010
On June 8, 2010, Apple released the iPhone4 at the WWDC conference. Apple CEO Steve Jobs said, “it’s a major jump from the original models. This is undoubtedly the most beautiful and sophisticated product I have created.”
However in sharp contrast with this high-profile release, Apple has been silent about questions regarding their supply chain’s heavy metal pollution. On April 16, 2010, 34 Chinese environmental organizations, including Friends of Nature, the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, and Green Beagle, questioned heavy metal pollution in a letter sent to CEO Steve Jobs. 50 days have passed, and though the significant problems with the IT industry’s violations of heavy metals standards have been reported through media, Apple has not given a word in response.

iPhone4 was released in the United States, but it was assembled in China. As the world’s center for the processing of IT products, China’s environment is paying the price. Printed Circuit Board (PCB) and battery power production especially create heavy metal pollution and has particularly serious damage and consequences. To promote the development of a true shift to green business behavior, 34 environmental NGOs conducted research and found data on some heavily polluting suppliers to IT brands. Then they made communications on this issue with 29 IT brands including Apple. Now 50 days has passed and Apple, with all its high-profile environmental commitment, is one of the 8 companies who did not respond.
At the conference, Mr. Jobs talked about the new features of the iPhone4 and its relatively low price, which has obviously become a competitive factor for this new phone. With its imagination and large sales, Apple has become the world’s most valuable IT company. However people are starting to have doubts regarding Apple’s silence on heavy metal pollution problems. Has Apple deliberately ignored its issues with environmental supply chain management in order to control costs and maintain price competitiveness? 
Of course as consumers we want cheap and good products, however if these production processes are exceeding wastewater discharge standards and even causing heavy metal pollution, they will cause long lasting damage to the ecological environment and public health. Today, even though we enjoy “cheap” IT products, tomorrow our children will have to pay a thousand times the cost to clean rivers, lakes, soil, the ocean and even their own bodies of heavy metals. Therefore Apple and other IT companies will have to pay for the consequences, as British Petroleum is doing today.
If we do not agree on such a future, we can in a peaceful, rational and determined way express our expectations and demands to Apple and other companies to strengthen their control over heavy metal emissions. Apple Inc. has a responsibility to respond to our expectations, because they have always made a high-profile announcement of its green commitment. So when you purchase their products, you are also purchasing a commitment. Apple relies almost entirely on outsourcing, so if suppliers are left unchecked, and violate discharge rules and standards, the company also violates their commitment. Thus consumers have a right to request explanations to be made and corrective measures to be taken.
There are already a number of successful cases of brand companies controlling suppliers’ heavy metal pollution. One aspect is that China’s environmental transparency has significantly improved. The pollution map database now contains over 60,000 corporate violation records from government sources. This allows brands to easily compare their list of suppliers with government issued non-compliant records. Currently GE, Nike, Wal-Mart, Esquel, Unilever, Mitsui Property and others have already started to use the database to track the performance of their suppliers in China. Through regular screening, more than one hundred companies with violation records have felt pressure over the past months and they have publicly disclosed their problems and corrective measures.
As noted above, currently Samsung, HP, Panasonic, Toshiba and other IT companies have made attempts to use public enforcement records for monitoring and managing their supply chain. But the lion’s share of IT brands is still taking a wait-and-see attitude. Perhaps they are waiting for the final signal, that is, a clear-cut message from the consumers. For the ecological environment and public health, and to leave our children with safe and inhabitable land, please raise your voice!