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Apple, Chinese environmental groups meet to discuss supplier pollution concerns

Apple recently met with five Chinese environmental protection groups to address concerns over domestic supplier pollution after reports had criticized the company for using loopholes in the system.

The Cupertino, Calif., company held the meeting on Tuesday at its offices in Beijing with representatives from five Chinese environmental groups, Penn Olson reports. The three-and-a-half hour meeting included nine representatives from the groups and five Apple employees.

According to the report, Li Li, who attended the meeting as director of EnviroFriends, said she was pleased that Apple made time for the meeting, but she also noted that the company continues to put the burden of responsibility for pollution on its suppliers. Li also felt Apple's attitude wasn't sincere.

Chinese environmental groups face difficulty in challenging Apple over its suppliers, as the iPhone maker declines to list its suppliers. Thus, the groups are left to their own research to discover which offending suppliers work with Apple.

Li said that Apple admitted during the meeting that 15 out of the 27 suppliers accused of excessive pollution were suppliers for the company. However, it declined to state which ones were correct.

"Apple said they had already spoken to 11 supply firms and asked them to reform, and they’re in the process of initiating communications with the other four," Li said.

The company did, however, commit to improving communication with non-governmental organizations in the future and agreed to consider environmental issues in the evaluation process for choosing suppliers.

Ma Jun, a well-known green activist who attended the meeting, called Apple's efforts "a major step forward." Tuesday's meeting with Apple was not the first for him, as he acknowledged that he had traveled to Cupertino, Calif., to meet with a senior executive from the company.

Apple declined to comment on the meeting, but did provide a generic statement to The Wall Street Journal. "Apple is committed to driving the highest standards of social responsibility throughout our supply chain. We require that our suppliers provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes wherever Apple products are made," said spokeswoman Carolyn Wu.

Earlier this year, several dozen environmental groups published a report criticizing Apple for failing to properly monitor its suppliers about health conditions. Several months later, some of the groups released a follow-up report that accused Apple of taking "advantage of loopholes in developing countries' environmental management systems." Just prior to the document's release, Apple agreed to meet with the groups to address the concerns.

Apple does conduct routine audits of its suppliers, compiling the results into an annual Supplier Responsibility Report. In February, the company issued its findings for 2011, noting that it had terminated business with a facility that had 42 underage workers.

Also, a recent report from environmental advocates Greenpeace listed Apple as the fourth-greenest device maker, up five spots from last year.

Catcher Technology, a company that is believed to produce 60 percent of Apple's unibody enclosures for its MacBook products, recently ran into trouble at its factory in Suzhou China. The company was forced to temporarily close its plant because of "strange odors" that were coming from it. Catcher was scheduled to reopen the plant in late October, but a recent report said the manufacturer was still awaiting government approval after installing new equipment.