Apple’s Benzene Ban Welcomed But Not Enough

Labour Action China welcomes Apple’s decision today to ban the use of benzene and n-hexane during the final assembly of iPhones and iPads. The two chemicals have long been widely used in the electronics industry, causing the death of thousands of Chinese workers and leaving many more disabled. While the industry does have various chemical guidelines, the focus has always been on product safety and environmental pollution, not on workers’ health. Apple’s move signals a wakeup call for the industry, and we hope that other players in the industry would follow the suit and devise chemical use policy in the workplace in order to safeguard workers’ health.


However it is regrettable that Apple would go only so far as to ban benzene during the final assembly, and not for its entire production process. Benzene is hardly a vital chemical in most industrial productions; its use as solvent in paint, glue and cleaning agents are all replaceable. Its only merit is its price – it is cheap. However its carcinogenicity has also been recognised for over a century, and most of the developed nations have long phased out its use. It is unacceptable that the brands continue to trade in workers’ health for profit, and we demand Apple’s to extend its benzene ban to the whole of its production process. In addition it should spell out its obligation for workers who have been affected by benzene and n-hexane before or despite the ban, which could possibly include the setting up of a compensation fund.


In fact the demand to ban benzene has originated from the victims themselves; a year ago benzene poisoned workers in China has started a joint petition calling for elimination of benzene from the workplace[1], which has since then been co-signed by scholars, lawyers and activists[2]. We demand the industry to take note of the workers’ call and issue a complete ban on benzene; in particular we hope that Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition would take the lead in adopting a benzene-free policy. Labour Action China will continue to pursue dialogue with actors in the industry in order to achieve this goal.

[1] Yangcheng Evening News : 53 benzene poisoned workers from Guangdong petition for a benzene ban (广东53名苯中毒工人联名呼吁全国工厂停用苯)