SYDNEY - Workers who say they were assembling Apple computers and iPhones in southern China have spent months in hospital after being exposed to a harmful chemical, an Australian media report said.
An Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalist said he gained access to the Number Five People's Hospital in Suzhou where he spoke to a group of women who said they were left unable to walk after being exposed to n-hexane.
"At first the symptoms were pretty obvious," one woman said of her reaction to breathing in the chemical, which was used to clean and stick logos on products. "My hands were numb. I could hardly walk or run," she added.
The report said the women had been in hospital for more than six months after working in a cramped and airless factory producing what they believed to be genuine Apple laptops and iPhones.
The ABC did not name the small factory or say when the women had been working there, but said they had retained components of the devices they had been working on which they showed to the reporter.
Apple, which did not confirm that it had sourced products from factories in Suzhou, said it had strict requirements on workplace safety for all suppliers.
An Australian spokeswoman for the US company told AFP that Apple took workers' health very seriously and conducted audits to check conditions, as well as requiring training in on-site health and safety.
In 2009, dozens of workers at a Suzhou factory managed by a subsidiary of Taiwanese company Wintek became ill from exposure to n-hexane. Wintek subsequently stopped all use of the chemical on its production line.
Labour activists have previously raised concerns about conditions in Chinese factories producing iPhones, arguing that millions of employees endure long hours, low pay and high pressure as they make the smartphones.
Taiwanese firm Foxconn, which makes electronic goods for Apple and other Western technology firms, has seen a spate of suicides at its Chinese plants this year.