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Apple makes plans to address supplier environmental concerns

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Apple (s aapl) this year jumped up five spots in Greenpeace’s green gadget rankings, but it has still come under fire in recent months for the environmental impact of its key component suppliers in China. Now, reports say it will look into its supplier operations using third-party auditing services, in order to see if accusations they are in violation of environmental regulations are accurate.

Apple has been in talks with Chinese environmental groups since those organizations have been levying accusations of environmental abuses at the company’s supplier partners, which were collected in a report released in August. Ma Jun, a leading Chinese environmentalist, told the Wall Street Journal (s nws) Apple met with leaders of five environmental groups on Tuesday, and it represented “a major step forward” for Apple and the aims of the environmental organizations.

Another environmental group leader, Li Li of EnviroFriends, said though it’s a step in the right direction, the groups and Apple “haven’t reached a consensus” and still disagree on many specific things. For instance, while Apple has acknowledged 15 of the 22 suppliers identified in the August report are indeed Apple suppliers, it wouldn’t single out which ones. Apple has a history of not making its supplier information public, possibly in order to keep a tighter lid on potential supply chain leaks regarding upcoming products.

The lack of openness is a problem, Li Chunhua, secretary general of the Green Stone Environmental Action Network told the IDG News Service: “What Apple has been doing is positive, but we want them to be more open with their supply chain.” For environmental groups, transparency with regards to suppliers translates into greater accountability for their actions on Apple’s part.

One of Apple’s key suppliers for its unibody Mac enclosures, Catcher Technologies, had to shut down a factory in October when nearby residents complained of pungent odors. It’s likely the attention this received that helped prompt the meeting on Tuesday, and Apple’s decision to open investigations into 15 of its suppliers.

Apple maintains a supplier responsibility policy, which in part insists its partners “use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes,” and releases a report each year detailing the findings of audits it conducts to ensure the policy is being met. Complaints like those from this group of Chinese environmentalist organizations suggest it may need to do more to satisfy growing scrutiny.

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