China investigating IT suppliers linked with Apple for polluting rivers

Environment groups released a report critical of the suppliers last week

Local authorities in China are investigating two electronics suppliers linked with Apple and also reportedly HTC of dumping heavy metals in the country's rivers after watchdog groups accused them of damaging the environment.

Last week, five Chinese environmental groups issued a report claiming that factories of Foxconn Technology Group and Unimicron Technology had been polluting rivers in the country's Taihu basin, where the cities of Shanghai and Kunshan are located.

The groups claimed the factories from the two suppliers had dumped large amounts of nickel and copper that had been poisoning the nearby water and soil, and threatening the health of local residents. At the Foxconn facilities, the water was described as black, and carrying an "awful stench". The affected soil had become yellow and red in color, and planted crops were also unable to grow. (A video of the report can be found here.)

On Friday, Kunshan's environmental protection bureau said it would investigate the matter, and monitor the water drained by the facilities. Any violations found will be dealt with, the city said in statement posted on the its official microblog account.

Taiwan-based Foxconn, which builds products for Apple, Microsoft and Sony, said it was aware of the claims made by the environmental groups, but said the waste treatment from its facility in Kunshan was in line with local regulations.

"The river that runs through the middle of that industrial park receives waste water discharges from a number of companies that are based in the park," the company said in a statement. Foxconn also said it was supporting government plans to protect the Taihu lake basin, and advocated other companies should do the same.

Unimicron, another Taiwan-based company, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The dumping of the heavy metals by electronic suppliers usually comes from the manufacturing of printed circuit boards, according to the Chinese environmental groups. Copper toxicity can cause the poisoning of fish and soil, and lead to cardiovascular illness in humans, while nickel is a known carcinogen, the groups added.

In its report, the environmental groups said they suspected Unimicron's facility in the lake basin of supplying to smartphone maker HTC.

In response, HTC said, "The company has been taking a proactive approach to ensure proper and prudent supply chain management," and works to ensure all of its suppliers follows the company's code of conduct.

In recent years, Chinese environmental groups have been critical of electronic manufacturers in the country for polluting. In the past, Apple was accused of failing to prevent its suppliers from damaging the environment. Apple later agreed to jointly audit one of its suppliers' factories in China with a prominent environmental group in the country. Apple did not respond when asked to comment on the investigations by Kunshan's environmental protection bureau.

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Tags environmentconsumer electronicsFoxconn Technology GroupElectronics manufacturingHealth and safety

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Michael Kan

IDG News Service
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