By Michael Martina
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese environmental groups accused Apple Inc of turning a blind eye as its suppliers pollute the country, the latest criticism of the technology company's environmental record.
Toxic discharges from "suspected Apple suppliers" have been encroaching on local communities and environments, a coalition of environmental organizations said on Wednesday in a 46-page report alleging efforts to conceal pollution.
Widespread environmental degradation has accompanied China's breakneck economic growth, and the government has been criticized for failing to take steps to curb pollution.
"The large volume of discharge in Apple's supply chain greatly endangers the public's health and safety," said the report, issued on the website of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (www.ipe.org.cn).
The report alleges that 27 suspected Apple suppliers had severe pollution problems, from toxic gases to heavy metal sludge. In one case, the report said, a nearby village experienced a "phenomenal rise in cases of cancer."
Apple has decided to "take advantage of loopholes" in developing countries' environmental management systems to "grab super profits," it said.
Apple does not disclose who its suppliers are. The environmental groups said public documents and five months of research and field investigation led to the findings in the report.
"A large number of IT supplier violation records have already been publicized; however, Apple chooses not to face such information and continues to use these companies as suppliers. This can only be seen as a deliberate refusal of responsibility," the report said.
This is not the first time Apple has been targeted for environmental infractions and its secretive supply chain management in Chinese factories, where it assembles most of its products.
In January, several of the same non-governmental organizations issued a report alleging woeful environmental records for the iPad and iPhone maker's China-based contract manufacturers.
In February, workers at a Taiwanese-owned factory in eastern China making touch screens on contract for Apple aired their grievances over a chemical poisoning after using N-Hexane, a toxic solvent.
Apple says it maintains a rigorous auditing regime and all its suppliers are monitored and investigated regularly.
"Apple is committed to driving the highest standards of social responsibility throughout our supply base," Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu told Reuters.
"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," she said.
Apple is not alone in drawing criticism from environmental groups. Some of the world's leading brands rely on Chinese suppliers that pollute the country's environment with chemicals banned in Europe and elsewhere.
Many Western multinationals -- including toymaker Mattel Inc, which suffered a toxic lead paint scandal in 2007 -- have struggled to regulate product quality across scores of suppliers in knotted Chinese supply chains.
Environmental degradation has emerged as one of the most potent fault lines in Chinese society.
Beijing has repeatedly promised to clean up its stressed environment. But it often fails to match that rhetoric with the resources and political will to enforce its mandates, as local officials put growth, revenue and jobs ahead of environmental protection.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; editing by John Wallace)
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