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Workers still seeking redress from Apple

By Qian Yanfeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-02-23 06:47
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SHANGHAI - Agitated Chinese workers suffering from a chemical poisoning at one of Apple Inc's supplier factories felt a sense of relief on Tuesday when the US company started to take action to remedy defects in its supply chain.

Speaking on Tuesday, the victims said Apple Inc had sent representative to listen to the demands of the Chinese workers who were poisoned at United Win Technology, a factory in Suzhou, Jiangsu province. The operation is owned by the Taiwan-based Wintek Corp, which produces iPhone components for Apple.

"One man surnamed Wu, who claimed he is an Apple employee, came to us this afternoon and asked about our health conditions, as well as our demands," said Hu Jie, one of the 37 victims who kept working at the factory after the poisoning scandal.

"We're glad that Apple is starting to hear our voices. But we are concerned over whether the company will meet our needs, since the representative didn't set a date for giving us a reply."

Huang Yu'na, a corporate communications manager at Apple China, declined to confirm that the visit had taken place. Huang told China Daily that the company has no comment to make about the situation beyond those that are included in its supplier responsibility 2011 progress report, which was released on Feb 15.

The company acknowledged for the first time in the report that 137 workers at Wintek's Suzhou factory had suffered adverse health effects following their exposure to n-hexane, a chemical found in the cleaning agents used in some manufacturing processes.

The chemical, which evaporates faster than alcohol, was used at the factory for about a year in order to speed up the production of touch screens for Apple products. The factory has returned to using alcohol in its manufacturing.

In the wake of the scandal, Apple has been under public pressure to supervise its suppliers' practices and to exhibit corporate social responsibly by helping the poisoned workers.

"We have three things to ask from Apple," Hu said. "One is to give us a formal rewritten apology. The second is to work with its supplier to have an independent third party hospital give us a follow-up medical examination and proper treatment. The third is fair compensation, since our future lives and careers may be affected by this poisoning."

Apple said in its report that a majority of the 137 workers harmed by n-hexane returned to their jobs at the same factory after the poisoning. But 100 of them had quit by Monday, following their receipt of compensation packages ranging in value from 80,000 yuan to 140,000 yuan ($12,152-$21,266).

They also signed exemption agreements, saying Apple would not be held responsible if their health worsened in the future. The remaining 37 workers have received from 10,000 yuan to 30,000 yuan worth of disability benefits in their paychecks.

China Daily

(China Daily 02/23/2011 page4)