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Green activists in China target alleged Apple suppliers

By Steven Jiang, CNN
updated 2:15 PM EDT, Fri September 30, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Some of Apple's suppliers in China are accused of the polluting the environment
  • Technology giant says it is committed to ensuring highest standards of social responsibility
  • Apple widely popular in China and has just opened Asia's largest Apple Store in Shanghai
  • The U.S. company has agreed to work with the green activists after recent talks

Suzhou, China (CNN) -- In the shadow of the bustling Kaedar Electronics plant a brightly colored kindergarten sits somewhat incongruously, its playground usually empty.

"Teachers always keep the windows shut," explained 3-year-old Wei Xiwei, who attends the community facility but is rarely allowed outdoors.

In Tongxin, a small village on the other side of the factory, the young have long gone, leaving only the old and frail behind.

"If we don't get moved out, I'll just die here soon," said 75-year-old Lu Baoyun.

Young and old, locals living around the Kaedar plant near Shanghai in eastern China, blame the same thing for disrupting their lives: fumes from the factory. Residents say the strong odor sickens them.

Kaedar reportedly produces casings for Apple's popular iPhone.

With the help of concerned citizens, a coalition of grassroots environmental groups tracked alleged polluters like Kaedar during a seven-month investigation and recently published their findings in a 46-page report titled "The Other Side of Apple (Part II)."

"They say they are committed to ensuring the highest standards of social responsibility," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs who led the effort. "If they can't manage their supply chain, it's just empty talk."

Contacted by CNN, Apple declined to name its suppliers in China but past news reports indicated Kaedar and many of the 21 other companies listed in the environmentalists' report manufacture parts for various Apple products.

Apple insists it requires that suppliers "use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes wherever Apple products are made." Kaedar would not comment for this report.

The activists also produced a video that features accusations from people living near what they say are Apple suppliers in various parts of the country. In one part, a fisherman in central China is seen rowing his boat along a small river discolored with a yellow hue, allegedly the discharge from two local factories - one believed to be an Apple supplier.

Apple declined to address specific allegations and referred CNN to its latest progress report on supplier responsibility. In the document, the company stressed that it aggressively monitors factories in its supply chain with regular, on-site audits. Apple also said it addresses relevant issues with nongovernmental organizations and industry groups.

Ma said Apple has talked to his organization and he was encouraged by the company's follow-up. But he emphasized public scrutiny is the key in combating environmental violations and said his group will continue to name and shame big brands.

Some 30 kilometers west of Tongxin Village, in an industrial park dotted with factories churning out electronics for the global market, residents at the Phoenix City high-rise housing complex echo the activists' sentiment.

They have been complaining about the same problem as the Tongxin villagers, from Catcher-Topo, an expanding electronics plant right next to their apartments and reportedly another Apple supplier.

"Health can't be the price of wealth, right?" said resident Miller Xu. "In a few decades, if your health is ruined, it wouldn't matter how much money you have."

The 33-year-old engineer said he is considering moving so that his toddler son would not have to breathe what he believes is "toxic air."

He added the residents' experience has given many pause for buying Apple products.

Apple has seen phenomenal sales growth in China and opened Asia's largest Apple Store in Shanghai last week. The company announced in July its revenue from Greater China reached $8.8 billion for the first three quarters of this fiscal year, an increase of more than sixfold compared to the same period last year.

"I don't have an iPad or an iPhone mainly because I can't afford them," Xu said. "But I heard many people here are boycotting the iPhone - and this factory is not the only Apple supplier with pollution problems."

CNN contacted Catcher-Topo for comments but the company declined. Officials in Suzhou, where the Catcher-Topo and Kaedar plants are located, said local factories are regularly inspected and all have met China's environmental protection code.

Residents remain skeptical, however.

"Ordinary people's words are totally worthless to the authorities," said Lu, the elderly villager in Tongxin. "There is simply nothing we can do."

CNN's Eunice Yoon and Xiaoni Chen contributed to this report.

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