Elizabeth O’Connell is waging war on Apple from an iPhone 5C with a cracked screen.
O’Connell, campaigns director for Green America, is part of an 80-strong group of environmental and human rights groups that recently fired off a 17-page letter to Apple’s vice president of environmental affairs Lisa Jackson. At the core of the question are known carcinogens, benzene and n-hexane, the chemicals that make your iPhone screen so shiny.
As former head of the Environmental Protection Agency Jackson, protest organizers say, should know better. The effort is part of Green America’s “Bad Apple” campaign, which features a mock app. At this writing, over 2,000 people have signed up for the “app,” which sends an email to Apple asking to cut the noxious chemicals. Organizers say another 20,000 people have signed a traditional online petition.
Protests against Apple have cropped up frequently in the last few years. In some ways, the Cupertino company makes an easier target than its competitors, most of whom make gadgets in the same Chinese factories. In addition to crafting must-have devices that are instantly recognizable from San Francisco to Shanghai, Apple has become more responsive to consumer outcry about how its insanely great products are made, from the supplier responsibility reports issued since 2007 to the recently-launched environment portal. Apple’s 2014 progress report highlights over 200 factory visits and mandated improvements to nearly 100 of them to identify, evaluate and control chemical exposure to workers.
It’s not enough for some. You could cut the health risks for 1.5 million workers and hold your iPhone high for less than $1 per device, organizers say. O’Connell isn’t alone in being both an Apple customer and a naysayer: many of the protest groups that we’ve interviewed have either been self-declared Apple fans or owned Apple products.
Here’s what she had to say about her device, why the campaign’s not called “Bad Samsung” and what the future holds.
Cult of Mac: Have you had any response from Apple?
Elizabeth O’Connell: Since launching the campaign in March, we have not received a formal response from Apple.
Prior to and after launching the campaign we have had conversations with Apple representatives regarding our concerns about hazardous chemicals and worker health and safety, but these conversations did not lead to Apple taking steps to keep workers safe, such as disclosing the chemicals its using in supplier factories, substituting those known to be dangerous, and ensuring sick workers get treatment. We have not yet heard back from Lisa Jackson regarding the letter we sent.
CoM: Your letter says that it hopes that Apple will be the first to institute such reforms, based on its past actions towards transparency and corporate responsibility. You could say that Apple is being singled out unfairly since they’re the already most responsible company in the industry. How would you answer that?
O’Connell: Just because a company is responsible in certain regards, such as reducing their carbon footprint and use of conflict minerals (both of which we commend Apple for) it does not give that company carte blanche to endanger workers.
Preventing workers (from) getting sick because of workplace exposure to chemicals should be an urgent priority for Apple. It is because of their progress on other environmental and social issues that we think they will in fact be the first to implement the reforms we are calling for. Once Apple does, pressure will build on Samsung and other competitors to follow.
CoM: What Apple devices do you own? Would you choose Apple again, knowing what you do now about the hazardous materials involved?
O’Connell: I have an iPhone 5C that I bought prior to learning about these particular issues that are affecting workers. The screen is now cracked, but I will not be upgrading it until Apple has made progress on worker health and safety.
I advise friends and family members in need of new iPhones to repair their old phones or seek out used phones, rather than buying any new products, especially since there is not presently a perfect phone on the market.
CoM: What’s next with the Bad Apple campaign?
O’Connell: We’re going to continue to build public awareness and pressure on Apple so the company knows this is indeed an issue that is important to consumers. So far we’ve collected over 20,000 petition signatures to Tim Cook, many of whom are enthusiastic Apple consumers.
Apple customers expect Apple to be socially responsible so the more Apple customers there are asking Apple to remove the most dangerous chemicals from their supplier factories, the more quickly Apple will actually take action.