Apple's reputation suffers in China over 'poisoned' workers

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The Independent Online

Queues to buy iPads and iPhones stretch around China's expanding network of iStores, but Apple's reputation is coming under severe scrutiny in China after workers at a factory making touch screens on contract for the tech giant urged Apple to address their grievances over a chemical poisoning they said could still harm their health.

The row is centred around Wintek, the Taiwanese company that owns the factory in Suzhou in eastern China, where 137 workers have reported health problems related to a toxic cleaning agent, called n-hexane. Wintek said it used the chemical, which evaporates faster than alcohol, between May 2008 and August 2009 to speed up production of touch screens for Apple products. It has since gone back to using alcohol.

The company gave the affected workers treatment, and most have returned to work, but some of them are suffering relapses, with cramping and excessive sweating, and the number of ill people is continuing to rise. Some workers have said the reason for their relapse is that they had not fully recovered when they were discharged from the hospital.

There are some emotive stories online. Some workers who chose to leave and accept the compensation payment of 80,000 yuan (£7,500), complain that their health costs about the price of 20 iPads.

Jia Jingchuan, who was identified with n-hexane poisoning in August 2009, spent 10 months in hospital but still has symptoms, according to reports on the People's Daily science website. "Now the company refuses to pay for those affected who have not yet recovered, and I'm one of them. I'm afraid if my illness gets worse, if I leave the company now, I will lose health protection," said Mr Jia.