Today at Apple Stores around the globe, users gathered to deliver a petition calling for Apple to make its next iPhone model “ethical.” The petition’s more than 250,000 signees want Apple to respond to allegations of worker abuse in its Chinese factories, and dedicate itself to developing ethical products in the future.
“I love my Apple, but I would love Apple a lot more if I knew my products were being made ethically,” Charlotte Hill, Change.org’s communication manager, told Wired. Hill delivered the petition to employees at the San Francisco flagship Apple Store. “Our entire Change.org operates off of Apple’s products,” Hill said.
At the San Francisco protest event, a few of the petition advocates were wearing full-body iPhone signs, one with an imaginary SMS conversation between a Foxconn worker and Apple CEO Tim Cook. Overall, the vibe in San Francisco felt more like a publicity stunt than anything resembling a civil-rights protest.
The same held true for the protest at the New York Apple Store located in Grand Central Terminal, where a good majority in attendance appeared to be journalists. At the New York event, Sarah Ryan of Change.org and a woman dressed in an iPod costume delivered the petition to Apple employees in a mess of camera flashes and waving microphones. The two were promptly forced to descend the stairs of Grand Central’s Great Hall to the relief of frustrated Apple employees.
The petition was started by Mark Shields, an Apple customer from Washington, D.C., when he learned of the abuses happening at overseas plants making Apple products. Shields launched an awareness campaign on Change.org, an online organization promoting social change, to put public pressure on Apple to clean up its manufacturing policies.
The petition was co-sponsored by SumOfUs.org, a group that fights for corporate accountability. SumOfUs says its Apple petition has acquired more than 57,000 signatures so far, and at least 20,000 of those signatures are from people identifying themselves as current iPhone owners.
Fan Yuan, an organizer of the group China Labor Watch, was also on hand at the New York event. The Chinese have labor laws, she told Wired, but local government gets the majority of its revenues from Apple device maker Foxconn, and sees no reason to enforce rules on the book. “I use an iPhone,” Yuan says, “but I want to be proud to say I’m an iPhone user, not embarrassed because it’s not ethical.”
Yuan and her colleagues were some of the few people at the New York event to actually protest. Most onlookers were confused commuters, broadcast journalists, tourists and many from the NYPD, including an explosives-sniffing yellow lab.
Yuan said she was disappointed at the low turnout. She has no idea what will happen from here, but she thought it was important that people turn up to “show their attitude” about Apple’s current policies.
Petition deliveries also took place at other Apple Stores around the globe, including Washington, D.C.; Sydney; London; and Bangalore.
In the wake of Apple’s blockbuster fourth quarter, highlights of which include more than 37 million iPhone sales and $97.6 billion sitting in Apple’s bank account, a high-profile New York Times editorial illuminated unsavory conditions in Apple’s Chinese factories. Foxconn was already notorious for providing a prison-like experience for its workers, and Wired took a deep look inside the factory early last year. But following Apple’s incredibly positive 2011 earnings reports, public outcry became tremendous, as well as a primary catalyst for the joint petition.
“It’s not just Apple. It’s every company that’s exploiting its workers,” said David Lawrence, a petition signer in San Francisco. Indeed, it seems like every major corporation, from Coca-Cola to Ikea to the Gap, has at some point employed child labor or unethical labor practices in order to manufacture its wares.
True enough: Apple is certainly not the only electronics manufacturer that uses Foxconn. But Apple is also famous for its feel-good brand messaging, and therein lies the disconnect between its public image and unseemly manufacturing partners.
Apple’s entire late-’90s resurgence was based upon the slogan “Think Different,” and the petition advocates we spoke with said it’s time Apple applies that ethos to its manufacturing processes as well. If Apple just shaved a little off the top of its massive earnings, the sentiment goes, it could improve living conditions of factory workers and reduce daily work loads.
“In an ideal world, Apple would create a very transparent plan for how it’s going to start ethically sourcing its materials, how it’s going to ethically start manufacturing its products — starting with the iPhone 5 — and make that public information so we can hold them accountable to it,” said Hill of Change.org.