Apple recently revealed a list of its suppliers of the iphone, ipad and other gadgets, and the labor, health and health and environmental violations against some of the offenders. Most of these violations were out of Taiwan and China. Included in the list of violations was the screening of employees for hepatitis B. What will this disclosure mean to those living with hepatitis B in China and around the world? Apple has responded to each of the violations that were uncovered and says it will end relationships with repeat offenders. Will this stop discrimination against those living with HBV? Probably not, but it may stir-the-pot, encouraging other corporations to do the same. Apple has star power, and the ability to make waves due to their success and reputation. However, it is likely that foreign suppliers will circumvent the system and continue screening its employees or prospective employees for hepatitis B.
The question is how a job making gadgets, or components for gadgets, for Apple or any other company could possibly pose a reasonable risk of HBV exposure to any factory employee? Hepatitis B is not transmitted casually. It is not transmitted by sneezing, coughing, shaking hands, sharing a meal, or working side-by-side with someone on the factory floor or sharing an office with someone who has hepatitis B. HBV is transmitted through blood and infected body fluids through blood to blood contact, unprotected sex, unsterilized needles and from an HBV infected mother to her newborn during delivery.
Every day the Hepatitis B Foundation responds to inquiries from people around the globe. Due to the stigma associated with HBV, chronic carriers may be denied employment due only to their HBsAg positive status. There are special circumstances where exposure prone procedures may put others at risk due to an HBV infection. This would be limited to health care positions that involve invasive procedures such as gynecologic, cardio-thoracic or surgical procedures that might put a patient at risk. These risk-prone occupations do not include – other health care positions, jobs in the food industry, the retail industry, being in an office, in a factory, on cruise line, or any number of ordinary jobs. A positive HBsAg test should not prohibit employment, or entering and working in another country.
There will always be discrimination in our world. Even with laws that protect employees in the U.S. there are ways to circumvent the system and quietly discriminate. In many countries where HBV is prevalent, discrimination is blatant. And of course HBV screening is merely the tip of the iceberg with the violations and deplorable working conditions in countries like China. Eyes wide-open can be a little disconcerting for those of us with our favorite gadgets. Apple’s disclosure of these violations is commendable and a start in the right direction. Hopefully other companies will step-up and follow their lead.