Apple has been no stranger to environmental concerns regarding their manufacturing and supply chain abroad, most recently a report from five independent environmental organizations in China in August accused the company of taking “advantage of the loopholes in developing countries environmental management systems” and awarding contracts to known polluters. Yesterday Apple responded to the accusations in a three-hour meeting with five Chinese environmental NGOs, admitting fifteen of their current manufacturing partners are contributing to pollution in surrounding areas by agreeing to perform audits of the companies. This followed several meetings with Apple following the group’s report in August, including one with Apple execs in Cupertino.

According to a report from WSJ, Ma Jun, of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs in Beijing, had this to say following the meeting:

“This is a major step forward… They asked these companies to take corrective plans and give a timeline, and Apple will verify whether all these issues have been resolved.”

As a result of the meeting, Apple is apparently vowing to improve its environmental standards within its supply chain, a move that could not only alter the manufacturing process of components, but also impact contracts awarded to manufacturers and suppliers in the future. According to the report, to avoid issues like massive amounts of waste water, Apple will encourage alternative manufacturing processes for components such as printed circuit boards. Apple also confirmed that this and other environmental concerns will play a role when awarding future contracts to suppliers.

Apple’s audits typically consist of interviews with employees, contract workers, and management, as well as physical inspections of manufacturing facilities, dormitories, and social areas. They also perform a review of “records and relevant policies and procedures”, according to the Apple Supplier Responsibility report from 2011. Perhaps a new environmental-focused audit procedures will be introduced prior to the 15 audits Apple has agreed to. Apple explains in that report that as of December 2010, 288 facilities located in “China, the Czech Republic, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States” have been audited. In 2010 the company performed 127 audits, up from 102 in 2009.

Yesterday’s promise is a bold move for Apple, who following the original report in August claimed many of the suppliers listed in the report weren’t associated with the company. Apple declined to comment on yesterday’s meeting, and also failed to provide the names of suppliers it has agreed to audit. Apart from a few exceptions, Apple doesn’t typically disclose the names of companies within its supply chain. Apple Spokesperson Carolyn Wu had this to say about the company’s environmental responsibility:

“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.”

(via Caixin)

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