Hundreds of chemicals -- some known to be harmful, and others that are largely untested -- are routinely used to manufacture consumer electronics in China, according to the Nation, exposing workers to cancer, reproductive health issues and other health risks.
The magazine, along with the environmental nonprofit group Green America, are putting the onus on Apple, as the industry leader, to lead the way in doing something about it.
Despite some reports to the contrary, the groups stress that this isn't a boycott -- it would probably be difficult to convince a significant enough number of people to stop buying iPhones. But they are asking Apple customers to send letters to CEO Tim Cook requesting that the company eliminate harmful chemicals including benzene and n-hexane, two of the most dangerous, and to ensure that workers sickened by exposure to them receive quality healthcare, "like you provide for your employees in the U.S."
In a statement to the Guardian, an Apple spokesperson responded that the company requires its suppliers to meet or exceed the safety standards set by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the two chemicals. Eliminating them entirely, the campaign claims, would cost the company less than a dollar per phone.
“We are targeting Apple because it has given itself a tremendous amount of responsibility but actions speak louder than words, and it has the potential to drive change because of the sheer size of its manufacturing base in China,” said Kevin Slaten of China Labor Watch, another group involved in the process. He added that Samsung, HP and Dell are also in need of reform.
They've picked a good time to target the company. Just last week, Cook made waves at the company's annual shareholder meeting by standing up to climate deniers who challenged the company's environmental initiatives. "We do a lot of things for reasons besides profit motive,” Cook said. “We want to leave the world better than we found it.” Now he has the chance to prove it.