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Chinese environmental groups take issue with Apple over pollution

A new report from China has accused Apple of being unresponsive to concerns over pollution, as well as taking advantage of lax environmental protection rules in developing countries to manufacture its products.

Five Chinese non-governmental organizations released a report on Wednesday accusing Apple of taking "advantage of loopholes in developing countries' environmental management systems," according to the Financial Times.

Apple is said to have relented to the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a co-author of the report, only hours before the document was publicized, in a move characterized as "highly unusual" for the iPhone maker. Apple reportedly invited Ma Jun, director of the institute, to start a dialogue on the allegations.

The five groups behind the report have swayed 29 electronics companies to work with them on containing pollution in their overseas supply chain. But the institute has singled out Apple as being unresponsive.

Apple's decision to talk with the institute also reportedly came with a claim that some of the factories included on Ma's list where not suppliers for Apple products. Ma said Apple gave him no further details, however.

"Although Apple does not directly manufacture anything itself and does not disclose, with very few exceptions, the names of its suppliers, the Chinese environmental groups say they used public information and court documents to form a list of more than 20 Apple suppliers with environmental violations to their name," the Times report said. "These suppliers also work for other companies."

The same consortium accused Apple in January of ignoring health concerns and failing to properly oversee its suppliers. Three-dozen environmental groups from China published that prior report, entitled "The Other Side of Apple," which ranked the Cupertino, Calif., company as the least responsive among more than 25 technology companies surveyed for details on working conditions.

Concerns over Apple's overseas supply chain are not new. This May, an explosion at a Foxconn-run iPad 2 polishing plant killed three people and injured another 15.

Foxconn's assembly factories in China have been the subject of perhaps the most criticism of Apple's supply chain. The iPhone maker was even forced to make a public statement last year after a number of suicides occurred at the main Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China.

Last year, another incident with supplier Wintek led to bad press for Apple, after dozens of workers filed a lawsuit claiming they were poisoned by the chemical n-hexane while cleaning glass iPhone screens. The workers alleged that a Wintek factory manager in China forced them to use n-hexane instead of alcohol because the chemical dries faster and leaves fewer streaks on glass.

Apple conducts an annual audit of its overseas partners and their factories. This year, that audit found one facility in the Far East that employed 42 underage workers, prompting Apple to terminate business with the facility.