Apple bans two chemicals from iPhone 6 production

14 Aug 2014

A Foxconn factory in China, one of the third-party companies assigned to produce Apple's products. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Consumer tech giant Apple is banning two potentially harmful chemicals in the production of its so-called iPhone 6, in a bid to protect employees involved in the assembly of the smartphone.

In the past, Apple and many other large technology companies, have been criticised for the conditions of the workers assigned to assemble the latest gadgets to hit the market. They are largely based in developing countries or where workers’ rights are not assured.

Five months ago, a group known as China Labour Watch, as well as Green America, targeted Apple in particular to stop using two particular chemicals in manufacturing.

As a result, Apple has promised to make sure workers in factories are treated fairly, starting with banning the use of the chemicals benzene and n-hexane in the production of its iPhones and iPads, despite the chemicals being found to have no harmful effects on its employees, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Not just an issue in Asia

While almost all factories used by Apple are through third-party companies in China, four other factories are affected by the ban, including two in the US, one in Brazil and one in Ireland.

A four-month report by Apple reveals none of its 50,000 employees have been negatively affected by the chemicals. The company decided to go ahead with the ban anyway, asking its factories to examine its devices for traces of the chemicals before it leaves for consumer use.

Both benzene and n-hexane have been documented as being harmful chemicals when put in contact with human skin, as they are reportedly known to be a leukaemia-causing carcinogen and a cause of nerve damage, respectively.

Apple’s vice-president for environmental initiatives Lisa Jackson told AP Apple is doing everything it can think of to do to crack down on chemical exposures and to be responsive to concerns.

“We think it’s really important that we show some leadership and really look toward the future by trying to use greener chemistries.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic