back to article iPhones, MacBooks sicken Chinese women

Chinese workers assembling Apple laptops and iPhones are being sickened by a particularly nasty industrial chemical, n-hexane, according to a report. "I think they knew it was poisonous to human bodies, but if they had used another chemical our output would not have increased," one woman told a reporter from the Australian …


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  1. Wang N Staines

    Another day

    and another cause of human misery inflicted by Apple and fanbois. Enough to make you want to buy Windows 7 gadgets.

    1. EddieD

      A bit harsh..

      All device manufacturers outsource production to the places where it's cheaper to manufacture their devices, and it's normally cheaper because things including labour rights and safety are not as rigorously enforced as they are in the west, and the workers in many factories suffer similarly, so, anyone with a bit of far eastern tech, regardless of being Apple or not, will be complicit.

      And I say this as a regular apple basher.

    2. Tigra 07

      Utterly disgusting...

      Crapple, built on the back of exploited and underpaid slaves

      1. Jim Bob

        ...and Sony & HP (use Foxconn)?

        and who else?

        I would propose that virtually every electronic gadget contains at least one component that was manufactured "on the back of exploited and underpaid slaves". If it isn't 100% clean then it is 100% tainted.

        It's always nice when you can attach this behaviour to a current media darling to highlight the plight of these unfortunates. But, any company that outsources production loses the ability (and often the desire) to audit just how many human abuses are contained in their products.

        1. Tigra 07
          Thumb Up

          No title required

          Fairtrade electronics might be a good business idea

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Law suit

      workers in any country should be able to sue the company causing a product to be manufactured at a settlement rate equal to that of the country in which that company resides (Apple and America). For these women that would be millions of dollars.

      If a company then decides to have it's headquarters elsewhere then countries should ban the import of their products.

      I firmly believe that products should be produced in the country where they are sold or for manufacturing scale in countries of approximate economic equality. So, you say China has the second biggest economy in the world and I say yes, but divide that by 1.4 billion. And how many has that really given a western lifestyle to. Not many (being proportional to 1.4 billion).

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It does appear that

    these workers are the same ones affected and reported on, those many months ago, but it sees they are still unwell, and it makes me wonder how they would have been treated in america/europe. I'm hypothesising that because their wage is below average, that their treatment is also below that which we would expect. Their are serious ethical considerations for equipment that is made on the cheap, and its a shame that the most expensive of vendors is still milking the cash cow (I think its spelt 'exploiting'). whereas in other market such as supermarkets and food, the more expensive are often more ethically sound.

    (In this case it shows that paying a premium does not equate to a superior choice)

    1. Michael C


      You presume to expect, and in some light you are right. Their pay and treatment is substandard to ours on many levels. HOWEVER, their pay and treatment, as enforced strictly by Apple, one of very few companies who even inspect these facilities, let alone publish openly the results and regularly fine (or fire) their suppliers, is actually significantly ABOVE the average pay, and well above minimum wages, includes mandatory overtime, maximum work hour caps (that we here in the US don;t even have!), vacation pay, and more.

      People admitted to the apple areas of FoxConn for example are paid higher on average than other FoxConn workers, and if the treatment of people was so bad there, would it be the kind of place locals stand in line for as long as 3 straight days to even apply for an opening?

      Also, n-Hexane is NOT a banned substance in China, nor MOST other European nations. It is a common lab cleaner, and if treated with no more care than you would institutional floor cleaner (wear protective gloves and work in a ventilated area) is perfectly safe to be around. It is NOT banned in the USA either, just restricted and monitored. Per OSHA it's not even an EPA controlled chemical and is IS legal to use in the US of A. Can we really hold them accountable for allowing a supplier to use a chemical WE do not even ban???

      Yes, improper ventalation may have been an issue. Use of n-Hexane may not have even been evident during apple site surveys (chemicals of choice for cleaning are frequently changed based on numerous factors), and if Apple had inspected this site, it would have been fined, as they are VERY well known for doing. They have hundreds of small suppliers, some of which may even be sub-contrtacted without apple's notice (which is not permitted, but happens, and there's little apple can do to stop what they do not know about).

      Also note, WinTek employees sicked work for more than 15 top manufactruers, including HP, Sony, Samsung and more. Apple was but one company they made parts for, and the only company in the calendar year to survey the site (and fines were issued for other problems, not this one). More than once, Apple has fired a supplier without paying them for parts already manufactured, in some cases costing a supplier millions. Most of them do not fuck around with apple, pay employees more to work on Apple stuff, and work in tighter controlled environments.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    perhaps they are causing human suffering...

    ... but they are still "green"

    hypocrisy at it finest.

    mine with the label "it is not green if humans suffered to make"

  4. iamapizza
    Jobs Horns

    Apple Employees

    Our employees... they just work.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Welcome to the real world Jobs!

    Dodgy antennas, iffy manufacturing processes and less than perfect mobile phone software ( *snigger* ), Apple seem to be taking a bit of beating at the moment! Still when you move from underdog to the status of tech darling, the knives come out!

    Oh and I own Apple desktops, so I have been suckered in too! Time to sign up with the Penguin maybe?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    Lots of women in China.

    Just hire some fresh ones. Not that big of a deal.


    Sent from my Amstrad E-m@iler

  7. Rogerborg

    Yup, switch to commodity hardware

    You'll sleep with an easy conscience, since nobody cares enough about the workers who make beige boxes to bother telling you that they're treated as disposable subhumans as well. Win!

  8. fissuria


    "East of Shangai" is the China Sea,+China&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=49.089956,79.013672&ie=UTF8&split=0&ei=tujHTID5GIqZ_QbqnKTICw&hq=&hnear=Shanghai,+China&ll=31.23394,121.473083&spn=1.611027,2.469177&z=9

    Suzhou is WEST of Shangai...

  9. Volker Hett

    Buy european or american made computers

    oops, there are non, too expensive!

  10. TeeCee Gold badge

    "...the charmingly named Number Five People's Hospital in Suzhou..."

    Presumably there's a somewhat less charmingly named Number Two People's Hospital somewhere around there as well?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Number 5

      Johnny Five is alive!

  11. Dimitri
    Thumb Down

    I don't know what's worse: apple or its customers!

    This is Nike all over again!

    Only a truly vacuous and hypocritical society would continue buying these products, after all the reports of the appalling conditions of workers that make them, just because they're "cool".

    Are we really so shallow that having the sexiest product is worth supporting a company with such a disgraceful record of human rights violations?

    Yes these are human rights violations - making your products in a dictatorial country, using what amounts to slave labor, is not just a problem for employee rights but for basic human ones!

    Apple's position is exceptionally shameful: not only do they charge massive premiums for their products, they find it necessary to profit from the other side of their value chain as well, by exploiting the misery of the workers.

    And NO, the fact that these are employees of their suppliers, does not in the least excuse them. As a western company with a strong position in our markets and society, as well as a so called moral stance (the "no porn" nonsense), they have a responsibility to police their supply chain and ensure that such conditions do not exist anywhere in it.

    I guess you can claim to be a good person standing on the corpses of your victims, as long as you're anti-porn.

    We should boycott apple products just like we (some of us) boycotted Nike and Gap in the 90's, forcing them to address the issue.

    1. Michael C

      where do you get this crap?

      1) Apple supplier accountability is higher than any other competing company by miles, they regulrly fine suppliers not in compliance, and they're one of the few companies to actually do personal on-site inspections for compliance, including surprise inspections. (other companies hire "local" inspectors, many times that have been found to be obn the payroll of the company being inspected...)..,

      2) not a single human rights violation has occurred against an employee of an apple supplier. Payroll is well above minimum wage, and as apple employees, they enjoy breaks, overtime, max work schedules, and vacation not offered in most cases to other employees of the same facility. They pay well in excess of minimum wages for the region, and must maintain compliance with all local laws as well as policies apple enforces in excess of them. Worker age minimums are extreemely strictly enforced (by both apple and china).

      You may not think the pay is fair by our standards, but in their country, its above board, and people wait in line DAYS to apply for those positions knowing full well the environment.

      3) n-Hexane is not even baned in the USA, and you want it banned there??? See OSHA regs regarding this chemicha:

      Have you SEEN FoxConn's facility? I've been in a LOT of US factroeis. Many of my IT clients were textile and food manufacturers. The FoxConn facility is like working inside the largest shopping mall in the world. Actually, it very much resembles a large airport minus the aircraft. over 300,000 people live there, in dorms nicer than the rooms they vacated in the homes of their family. After working only a few years at FoxConn, most of these people can afford to pay, cash, for college level educations. $100 a week might sound low to you and me, but their lifestyle requires far less than that. Look around, half od them are listening to iPods while they work. know any minimum wagers in the USA that live on their own and can still afford a $300 device? Its far from slave labor. People BEG to get jobs there. People LEAVE jobs at neighboring companies to work there. They have a lower suicide rate than general USA populations inside that factory...

      Oh, and if you're boycotting Apple on this, Boycot Sony, Samsung, HTC, nokia, HP, Yamaha, Westinghouse, GE, and just about every other company. in fact, boycot them first. At least Apple DOES site surveys, and goes the extra step to PUBLISH those results.

      You take a long look at a staff of 450,000 people, SHIT YES you'll find some cases of abuse. There however, its very rare, and what abuse WE report is honestly on par with their cultural expectations and philosophy (rough, maybe, but that's their culture). Take any company in the USA of just 20,000 people and you will find more annual reported cases of physical or sexual abuse than at FoxConn. 20 times the employees, and in a dictatoreship, and most of them live better fuller lives in a safer workplace than some of us.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        They could do that

        auditing much more easily if their products were produced in North America and or Europe. The increased cost of production might even be offset by providing jobs in the places where can, used to be able, to afford by these products.

  12. Maliciously Crafted Packet

    The sooner we can get robots and machines... replace people working in factories the better.

    Monotonous production line work is inhumane and dangerous. We shouldn't ask people to do these jobs.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Paris Hilton

      Very noble sentiment.

      But the fact is that hiring Chinese workers costs less than investing in automated production equipment.

  13. Evil Auditor Silver badge


    Well, it wouldn't make sense to produce in higher-costs places, would it? On the other hand, if I bought trousers for 50p, I'd expect them to be made by child slaves in a 4th world country. But I wonder about the value chain with these overpriced crApple products. One might think these devices were hand-crafted in Switzerland...

    1. Ted Treen

      STILL ignoring..

      the fact that Apple's systems are at a very similar price to similarly-specced Windows boxes.

      Are Dell made in idyllic circumstances, by happy smiling assemblers employed in a state of benevolent altruism?

      Ditto Sony

      Ditto HP

      Ditto any-other-hardware-manufacturer.

      Nothing more rabid than the spittle-flecked invective of the anti-apple brigade, despite their arguments being virtually 100% sophistry.

      Still, never let facts or veracity get in the way of a good self-important rant.

      1. Dimitri

        Did you really think this through?

        No, not really.

        1) Apple gear is NOT similarly priced to similar non-apple gear. It is about 2ble.

        Cost of a Mac Book Air? $ 999+. Cost of equivalent netbook (that's what it is): $500+

        Mac Mini: $700+ for 3 year old C2D, 2GB RAM, nvidia 320M and 5400rpm 320GB drive in a stylish mini box (some kind of mini ITX mobo). Equivalent non apple cost? $60 for the CPU, $50 for RAM, $60 for disk, $100 for box, $60 for GPU, $60 for mobo. Total = $400. Windows 7 licence ~$100-150 depending on type. Linux for free. That's retail prices, not wholesale by the way.

        2) As for the other tech companies, they are not innocent, and no-one claims they are.

        HP factories in Mexico immediately fire women who get pregnant to avoid maternity leaves.

        Some IBM factories are the same. Still there's been no allegations that their employees are being poisoned...yet.

        Even if it turns out they're as bad as Apple (which I doubt because they're much more aware of the PR risks) it doesn't mean we should accept this behavior from any of them.

        Hey, people are enslaved at gunpoint in some parts of the world. Shall we do the same to you, since you seem to think that whatever others practice is acceptable?

        Get a conscience and get over your apple-worship, so you can re-join the human race.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Never let facts or veracity get in the way of a Fanboi

        Read the article. Why would these women be using n-hexane to apply *Apple logos* to a Dell?

        Ditto Sony?

        Ditto HP?

        Ditto any-other-hardware-manufacturer that isn't Apple?

        Still, as long as the fanbois get their shiny-bling who gives a fuck, eh?

  14. Sean Nevin

    What isn't made in China?

    Seriously, I want to know.

    Most of the kit in my shop is not made there, but that's because it's higher-end test/development equipment and I'd not touch a "Made in China" oscilloscope/spectrum analyzer/etc.

    Unfortunately, I don't know very many tech suppliers who make their stuff elsewhere, and I'll be needing some new computers soon. If I can find something not made in China I'll buy it.

    1. thesykes

      made in China?

      was being dragged around a well know Scandinavian furniture store recently, bored obviously, so was looking at where the various bits n bobs were made... China, China, China... ahh.. not China. Can't remember what country it was now, but it was definitley not China. the reason this stuck in my mind? The item was..... chopsticks.

  15. JaitcH

    "Apple is committed to ensuring that working conditions in Apple’s supply chain are safe ..."

    That might be the corporate patter but Apple isn't there day and night - nor are all the other Western enterprises who use cheap Chinese labour employed in conditions that wouldn't be tolerated in their home countries.

    The Chinese government doesn't care, it is too busy counting the loot.

    Now the white iPhone 4 has been released, without the Grip of Death, you have to wonder what new health risks are involved.

    1. Tempest

      Don't get carried away ... they've only made a few

      The Fruit Fone still has problems. Smart buyers would wait until Version 5 - it might work.

      1. JaimieV

        Just swapped my fruit phone

        Replaced my 3GS with an iPhone4. The 4 gets much better reception in my low-signal local areas than the 3 does - home, pub and shops, no dropouts at all rather than one/zero bars. Nice. Seems even better than my ancient Nokia 8200, previously the top of the stack round here.

  16. Azzy

    All they'd need to do is improve ventilation

    ... and this wouldn't be an issue at all! Pathetic, really. How hard is it to install vent fans?

    n-hexane is _not_ "particularly nasty" as the author states. It's a simple solvent, commonly used in consumer products worldwide (as a general purpose solvent, and the solvent in glue and model cement, a component in some paint thinners, etcetera). It is _less toxic_ than many other organic solvents (toluene, xylene, and their ilk are worse).

    My guess is that they switched to n-hexane because it evaporates more rapidly, and that they switched from something (maybe n-heptane?) that was no less toxic, but which didn't reach dangerous concentrations in the poorly ventilated factory because it evaporated more slowly.

    The problem in this case is not a "nasty" chemical, but a failure to provide basic facilities (ventilation).

    Shame on Apple for being too cheap to provide ventilation.

  17. Andy Baird

    iPhones or fakes?

    According to ABC's report, "they had been exposed to n-hexane while gluing and polishing logos on Apple laptops and iPhones."

    What nobody seems to have picked up on is that iPhones have never had glued-on logos. The logo is molded or etched in. In other words, these phones were fakes.

    That doesn't make life any easier for the affected workers, but it does make all the folks who took this as an opportunity to have a hearty sneer at Apple look rather dim.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not at all, these workers still live

      well below that of the people where most of these products are sold. The easy fix is to move these jobs back to Europe or North America, of course, at that point the factories would go as automated as possible, but it would still mean some jobs and taxes in, you know, the places where these products are used and purchased.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Cynical much, Rik?

    Strewth, Rik! That was a polemical tour-de-force. Would have been considerably more noteworthy had your article been a little more objective and a little less like an opinion piece based on limited research and maximum sneering. All you've done is incite the impoverished 12-year-old beige-boxers to riot in what you must have known would be a snarl-fest of anti-Apple mewling and scratching. Trying to up your hit-rate on el Reg, Rik?

    Objectivity in articles is often in short supply here, which is fun and easy to write and a laugh to read, but something a little more considered and mature would do your reputation more good than scribbling a so-called "news" item like you were a cheap politician pointing at his opponent and making accusations of witchcraft. How long did it take you to write it, Rik: three minutes? Scribbling notes from a transcript of an ABC report is no better than subbing the intro to a press release and submitting it to the editor for publication.

    Apple will of course be all over this problem by now and will demand that the factories improve the ways in which they work. Even the juvenile Apple-haters would admit that Apple is never going to condone or turn a blind eye to the abuse of workers employed by a third party factory.

    Would your readers admit it? Probably not, going by the spleen vented above.

  19. Equitas

    No-one pretends ...

    that other companies use facilities any better than Apple do. However, what Apple are selling, at a premium of about 100% over the cost of comparable equipment, is image. But then we already knew that the fanbois are narcissitic -- why would we ever have expected them to care about anything or anyone other than themselves?

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