Responding to an activist campaign launched in June, Apple has announced it is prohibiting the use of the toxic chemicals benzene and n-hexane in the final assembly processes for its iPhones and other products. The campaign by non-profit Green America was backed by a large number of environmental, human rights and other organizations.
"Recently, we received some questions about whether the chemicals benzene and n-hexane are used in the manufacturing of our products," said Lisa Jackson, vice president of environmental affairs at Apple and former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, writing in an Apple blog post Wednesday. "We took immediate investigative action, sending specialized teams into each of our 22 final assembly facilities, and found no evidence of workers' health being put at risk. We've updated our tight restrictions on benzene and n-hexane to explicitly prohibit their use in final assembly processes."
Elizabeth O'Connell, campaigns director at Green America, welcomed the announcement from Apple. However, she added, "Apple needs to go further to create a safe environment at all factories in their supply chain for the health and safety of all 1.5 million workers."
Ban Affects 22 of 349 Facilities
We reached out to O'Connell to ask what further actions her organization would be taking in the wake of Apple's announcement.
She said one of Green America's first steps would be to release an action letter thanking Apple for its response and next asking the company to "go deeper."
"We think it's important that Apple deepens its own commitment," O'Connell said, noting that the company's prohibition does not include second- and third-tier manufacturing facilities. In a news release issued Thursday, Green America pointed out that the 22 facilities mentioned in Jackson's post represent just 6.3 percent of Apple's 349 supplier facilities in China.
O'Connell added that it was "really great" that Apple's announcement was accompanied by its first-ever release of a list of substances that the company prohibits or regulates in its manufacturing facilities. However, she continued, Apple could go further by also revealing what chemicals are actually used in the manufacturing process.
Putting Pressure on Manufacturers
Green America launched a second campaign -- this one targeting phone-maker Samsung -- in July, and has yet to hear a response from that company, O'Connell said. She said the campaigns are aimed at first targeting both the largest phone companies as well as the companies whose use of chemicals cause the greatest concern. Ultimately, she said, the goal is to put pressure on the entire cellphone industry to reduce the use of toxic substances in the supply chain.
O'Connell said she hoped other manufacturers would eventually feel compelled to emulate Apple's latest actions. However, she added, further pressure might still be needed.
"It depends on how responsive other manufacturers will be," she said.
Apple's Jackson said in her blog post that the company's history proves that the electronics industry can make use of green chemistry.
"We'll invest in research on new materials and technologies," she said. "We'll assemble a new advisory board composed of leaders in safer chemicals and pollution prevention to advance our efforts to minimize or eliminate toxins from our products and supply chain. And we'll listen -- convening roundtables with stakeholders to seek out the best science, data and solutions."