While Steve Jobs was head of Apple, the company was one of "America's least philanthropic companies," lacking even a basic corporate charitable arm. Apple also often seemed reluctant to green its operations. But under new CEO Tim Cook, that might be about to change.

In the meantime, many of Apple's suppliers are still poisoning the environment and their employees.

Ma [Jun, director of China's Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs] recalls one factory worker — an 18 year-old girl — who was poisoned while working for an Apple supplier. "After half a year [at work] she couldn't walk properly and fell to the ground. She couldn't pick up a brush or chopsticks," says Ma. "She got better, but the problem is, she is not fully recovered, and her family spent so much of their money [on medical bills]. It was a desperate situation."

Ariel Schwartz at Fast Company reports that Apple is now hiring experts to evaluate their suppliers and any worker complaints, and that the pressure is already making a difference.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

"It's important for Apple to move from being passive to being proactive," says Ma. "I'd hope they could set up their own screening system to identify problems before, in a proactive way, instead of waiting for us."

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.