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China: Apple under fire over deaths and pollution

Days after Apple was hit by news of CEO Steve Jobs' illness, the iPhone maker has been savaged by environmental campaigners in China, who accuse the company of ignoring health and safety problems at suppliers' factories.

Apple was the least responsive to concerns of 29 technology companies surveyed in a new report, The Other Side of Apple, published on Thursday by the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a coalition of three dozen green lobby groups.

The most responsive companies named in the report were BT, Compaq and Samsung.

The report levels some harsh criticism in a country not known for public dissent - but it's not the first time Apple has faced questions over the record of its Chinese suppliers. In May last year, the Cupertino company came under fire after a spate of suicides (opens in new tab) at the factory of one of its suppliers, Foxconn.

Earlier last year, at least one worker died, and dozens more were injured, by N-Hexane poisoning at the factory of another Apple supplier, Wintek Corp - one of the firms inked to supply components (opens in new tab) for the upcoming iPad 2.

The report claims Apple is ducking responsibility for problems at its suppliers, after it failed to respond to the Institute's repeated requests for information.

"If the supplier doesn't perform, does Apple really have responsibility? Yes," the group said.

Apple has issued no formal response to the report, but a spokeswoman in China, Carolyn Wu, said the company is "committed to ensuring the highest standards of social responsibility".

Low wages have drawn thousands of Western companies to China, with many contracting production to local Chinese suppliers, many of whom have a chequered history on workers' conditions.

The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs says big brands such as Apple should be held to account for the dangerous working conditions under which components for their products are made.

The criticism could hit Apple's expansion plans in China, where the company last year opened its first Apple Stores. Revenue from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan currently totals $2.6 billion - about 10 per cent of the company's total income.

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