Apple customers are calling for Apple to intervene in the reportedly dangerous and unfair labor practices at Chinese factories in the company's supplier chain.
iDevice user Mark Shields of Washington D.C. recently started a petition, published on social activism site Change.org, that has garnered over 150,000 signatures.
You're supposed to think different. I want to continue to use and love the products you make, because they're changing the world, and have already changed my life. But I also want to know that when I buy products from you, it's not at the cost of horrible human suffering.
Based on the comments attached to the petition, it appears that many of the signers, like Shields, are also Apple fans who are calling on Apple to take an active hand in protecting the rights of workers in the company's manufacturing chain, a global network of partners that includes juggernauts like Samsung, Sony and Foxconn, as well as lesser-known companies like TriQuint Semiconductor.
Shields wrote on Change.org that he was shocked into action after hearing a January 6 radio broadcast of "This American Life," which detailed abuses at Apple supplier factories in China.
The segment stated, for example, that employees work long hours at repetitive tasks and that it's not uncommon for employees to get such bad carpal tunnel that they lose the use of their hands completely. Shields wrote in an open letter to Apple that the carpal tunnel problem mentioned on "This American Life" could be alleviated if workers were simply rotated through different tasks instead of performing the same one over and over during a shift that, according to a CNN report, can last up to 35 hours.
Shields' petition has two demands. The first calls for Apple to create a "worker protection strategy" to address how the company will keep workers safe during new product launches, which Shields said is when the most injuries happen due to the need to get a high volume of product out in a short time. The second demand is for Apple to publish the results of the Fair Labor Association's monitoring of Apple suppliers' working conditions.
In January, Apple announced that it would allow the FLA to conduct independent audits of its component suppliers. This announcement was made at the same time that the company released for the first time a list of 156 of its supplier partners. Apple CEO Tim Cook said at the time that the company had conducted 229 supplier audits of its own in 2011, which according to Reuters, was an 80 percent increase over 2010. Among the violations uncovered were six active cases of underage labor. Cook said, per Reuters, "All of this means that workers will be treated better and better with each passing year. It's not something we feel like we have done what we can do, much remains to be done."
Major publications have, in the past, covered conditions in Foxconn component factories (see, for example, Wired's March 2011 cover story, "1 Million Workers. 90 Million iPhones. 17 Suicides. Who's to Blame?"). A New York Times article published on January 26 offered a shocking behind-the-scenes look at multiple factories where Apple components are made under conditions that have reportedly led to high stress, injuries and even suicides among workers. The article implicated consumers, as well as factory owners, regulatory bodies and Apple.
"You can either manufacture in comfortable, worker-friendly factories, or you can reinvent the product every year, and make it better and faster and cheaper, which requires factories that seem harsh by American standards,” a current Apple executive was quoted by the Times. “And right now, customers care more about a new iPhone than working conditions in China.”
As a result of the Times article, Cook wrote an email to Apple employees in which he reiterated the company's commitment to workers along the supply chain. "What we will not do - and never have done - is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain," Cook's email read, according to Reuters.
"Any suggestion that we don't care is patently false and offensive to us," the email went on to say.
Despite deplorable working conditions in many factories, free food and lodging and a steady paycheck continue to make jobs at China's electronics contracting factories extremely desirable. On Monday, thousands of job-seekers waited for hours in the hopes of getting a job at Foxconn, which is one of the largest employers in mainland China. According to M.I.C. Gadget, the manufacturing giant is looking to add 100,000 new employees to its Zhengzhou factory.
Check out a clip of Jon Stewart arguing with Siri over Foxconn conditions (below).