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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 20 December, 2014

‘Poisoned’ Chinese factory workers appeal to Apple for help

Scores of Chinese factory workers have appealed to Apple to “heed to its corporate social responsibility” after claiming that they have not be properly compensated after being exposed to a highly toxic chemical.

An Apple flagship store in Beijing.
An Apple flagship store in Beijing.
Image: Xu Zi/ColorChinaPhoto/AP/Press Association Images

CHINESE FACTORY WORKERS who suffered chemical poisoning while making iPhone touchscreens have written to Apple requesting help.

After being exposed to a chemical called n-hexane 137 workers experienced health problems and were not compensated adequately by the Taiwanese owner of the factory, they claim.

Workers say that those who have been compensated were pressured to quit their jobs or to take cash settlements that would absolve the factory of future liability – something that is denied by the company, reports the New York Times. They also claim that no assurances were given that new workers would not be exposed to harmful chemicals and that many are regularly working in unsafe conditions, reports the BBC.

Wintex Corporation, the company that owns the factory, said in a statement that the chemical was used to clean touchscreens during production – alcohol had previously been used but n-hexane was found to evaporate more quickly. Wintex said that it has now reverted to using alcohol.

Those exposed to the n-hexane can experience faintness, dizziness, sweaty hands and feet, numbness, swelling and intense pain. Some workers have been hospitalised for over six months after inhaling the toxins, reports ABC News.

One of the affected workers Jia Jingchuan, 27, said that exposure to the toxin had left him with nerve damage: “We hope Apple will heed to its corporate social responsibility,” he said.

Apple recognised the sitaution in its annual progress report, saying that the behaviour of Wintek constituted “a core violation” of workers’ well-being. It said that, after making the discovery, it had ordered the factory to remove the poisonous chemical from the production line and to change the ventilation system. It said: “Since these changes, no new workers have suffered difficulties from chemical exposure”.

Apple has not commented on the letter it has been sent by the workers, but said in its report:

Apple has verified that all affected workers have been treated successfully, and we continue to monitor their medical reports until full recuperation. Following China law, Wintek has paid medical treatment, meals, and foregone wages for sick or recuperating workers. A majority of the 137 workers have returned to employment at the same factory.

It is not the first disturbing report to come from Chinese factories producing Apple products. Last year, at least 13 workers at Foxconn – a factory in Shenzhen – took their own lives. Labour rights activists have blamed the deaths on intense working conditions, saying that employees are often made to work around the clock, and called for intervention on behalf of millions of poorly-treated factory workers across China.

Apple said in its report that it had been “disturbed and deeply saddened to learn that factory workers were taking their own lives at the Shenzhen facility of Foxconn”.

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