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Apple supplier Wintek says it treated workers for chemical exposure


Wintek, the maker of display panels for Apple's iPhone and iPad, said this week that it provided proper medical treatment to workers who became sick after alleged exposure to a poisonous chemical.

Wintek announced through the Taiwan Stock Exchange this week that it stopped using the dangerous chemical known as n-hexane, and all affected workers have been examined and treated, according to DigiTimes. The company said those exposed to the chemical are recovering and some have returned to work.

The Taiwanese company said it has taken proper measures in response to the incident including medical treatment for all of those who were exposed to n-hexane. The chemical can cause nerve damage and paralysis in humans.

Last week, it was revealed that 44 workers of Wintek's plant in Suzhou, China, plan to sue the company. It was reported that at least 62 Wintek workers were hospitalized since August of 2009 after exposure to n-hexane.

The Chinese workers claim that they were forced to use n-hexane instead of alcohol to clean display panels because the chemical dries faster and leaves fewer streaks on glass. The factory manager who allegedly forced the workers to use n-hexane has since been fired.

Wintek is a major manufacturing partner of Apple. The company recently landed a contract to produce new iPad screens to help offset a reported shortage. Wintek is also rumored to be responsible for 40 percent of the touch panels in Apple's next-generation iPhone. The device is expected to be announced at the Worldwide Developers Conference, scheduled to begin June 7 at San Francisco's Moscone West.

The alleged chemical exposure was the subject of a violent strike at the Wintek plant earlier this year. More than 2,000 workers in Suzhou destroyed their equipment and damaged vehicles at the plant in response to a number of deaths allegedly from overexposure to toxic chemicals. The strike was eventually settled days later with bonuses offered to workers, and production of products from the plant went unaffected.

Wintek also came under fire in 2009, as workers at the company took their case directly to Apple over what they saw as illegal and abusive working conditions. Members of the National Federation of Independent Trade Unions in Taiwan protested in front of Apple's Taipei offices last May, hoping the Mac maker would influence Wintek.

Apple has not been immune to scrutiny for its overseas partnerships for manufacturing. A 2009 audit of factories Apple contracts with in China found that more than half were not paying valid overtime rates for those that qualified, and 23 of the 83 surveyed factories weren't even paying their workers China's minimum wage.