Apple Hire Suggests Focus on Supply Chain Pollution

Former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Lisa Jackson announced her new role as Apple’s vice president for environmental initiatives this week. As Brian Fung points out at the National Journal, it seems likely that Jackson will focus substantially on Apple’s largely Chinese supply chain, which has been the target of stinging criticism from Chinese environmental groups in the past.

One way she could do that is by vastly expanding Apple’s specialized environmental audit program. In 2011, the company conducted 14 such exams and found nearly a dozen cases where its partners had failed to update their environmental impact statements, register for pollutant permits, or make other changes to comply with Apple’s supplier code of conduct. In 2012, the number of specialized environmental audits jumped to 55—a nearly 300 percent increase. It wouldn’t be surprising if, under Jackson, that figure were to grow again.

Inspections are one thing; making sure Apple’s partners actually comply is another. The corporation famously forces its contractors to get by on extremely thin margins, which raises their incentive to cut corners. There’s a probation system—one company was reprimanded after it was discovered that waste oil was being flushed down a public toilet—but how often probation is imposed isn’t always clear. [Source]

Aside from increasing the number of inspections, Apple has involved some of the same environmental groups that previously blasted its lack of transparency (PDF, pp. 26-7). Another ongoing change in the company’s Chinese supply chain, according to The Wall Street Journal, is a loosening from both ends of the close relationship between Apple and electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn.

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