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Thursday, January 20, 2011, 12:00 pm PT (03:00 pm ET)

Chinese environmental groups accuse Apple of ignoring health concerns

A consortium of environmentally focused groups in China called out Apple on Thursday for allegedly failing to properly oversee suppliers, accusing the iPhone maker of fostering health and safety problems in factories.

Three-dozen environmental groups from China published the report Thursday, entitled "The Other Side of Apple," which ranks the Cupertino, Calif.-based company as the least responsive among more than 25 technology companies surveyed for details on working conditions. According to The Associated Press, the environmentalist activists are also advocates of workers' rights.

The groups' report chastises Apple for not responding to repeated requests for information related to apparent issues with suppliers. Apple and its overseas manufacturing and component partners, particularly Foxconn, have come under fire with allegations of employee mistreatment and inadequate pay.

The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, based in Beijing, specifically cited an incident with Apple supplier Wintek, where a number of workers became sick after they were allegedly exposed to poisonous chemical. Wintek makes display panels for Apple's iPhone and iPad, and it was reported that the use of n-hexane to clean those displays caused the incident. The chemical can cause nerve damage and paralysis in humans.

Wintek was sued by 44 employees over the incident, and the Chinese environmental group, in its report, said that the company acknowledged the incident to them. But they were apparently upset that Apple would not reveal to the group whether Wintek was supplying displays for Apple's products in that particular case.

Apple came in last place among the 29 companies ranked by the group. Declared the most responsive was British Telecommunications, followed by Compaq Computer and Samsung Electronics.