Apple offers to talk with Chinese environmental group

The environmental group leader calls it a positive sign from Apple

Apple has requested a Chinese environmental group to hold talks on a report that accuses the company's suppliers of polluting the environment and endangering the lives of residents.

On Wednesday, Apple's supplier responsibility department sent an e-mail with the request to the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), which together with other environment groups, released a report investigating suppliers believed to be connected with the company.

The report, which was publicly released on Wednesday, provides several instances of manufacturers in China discharging harmful pollutants. In one case, the report links the pollution caused by two manufacturers with a rise in cancer rates among residents living nearby.

Apple said the company was "focused on constantly improving" its suppliers, according to a copy of the e-mail provided by IPE. But Apple said it found discrepancies with the list of suppliers IPE alleges are possible manufacturers of Apple products that have polluted the environment. IPE believes it has found 27 such suppliers.

"Several suppliers are not in our supply chain," Apple's e-mail said. "We would be interested in hearing more specifics on what you have discovered about these suppliers." The e-mail then asks if IPE would be interested in holding a private conference call to discuss the specifics.

IPE and other environmental groups have criticized Apple before, alleging that the company fails to monitor the work conditions and manufacturing processes used by its suppliers in China. But this is the first time Apple has responded to the groups' complaints, said Wang Jing Jing, vice director for IPE.

"This is a very positive sign," she said. "We are very willing to communicate with them."

IPE replied to Apple's e-mail and said the group welcomed discussions with the company. However, IPE wants the talks to include several other environmental groups, which were also involved in investigating the suppliers. IPE has also asked Apple to clarify which suppliers the company does not have a relationship with.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on whether several manufacturers named in IPE's report were in fact suppliers of the company. Three suppliers named in IPE's report, Meiko Electronics, Kaedar Electronics and Unimicron have yet to comment.

Apple has previously defended itself by stating that the company works to achieve safe environmental standards with its suppliers. The company regularly conducts audits to ensure compliance and has made progress reports available online. In 2010, 127 Apple supplier facilities were audited. If violations are found, suppliers have to complete a plan to resolve the problem within 90 days after the audit.

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