Just two months after its opening, Apple's state-of-the-art Grand Central store in New York City was the site of an event that the gadget giant would probably like to keep quiet.
According to a press release from Change.org, on Thursday outraged Apple customers delivered petitions to the Grand Central store and five other Apple retail stores around the world calling for the company to respond to widespread criticisms of conditions in its suppliers' factories and to commit to creating an "ethical iPhone 5."
The 250,000 signatures were to be delivered simultaneously to Apple locations in Washington D.C., San Francisco, London, Sydney, Bangalore and to Apple's Grand Central store. CNN Money reports that the New York City demonstration involved about a dozen people who "peacefully handed their petition -- hundreds of pages stacked in a shipping box -- to the store's manager."
The quarter of a million signatures were collected through separate petitions on social activism sites Change.org and SumOfUs.org.
The SumOfUs petition garnered 55,000 signatures and according to the Change press release was the organization's most viral petition since it launched two months ago. At the time of this writing, the Change.org petition had gotten almost 200,000 signatures since it was started in late January by Washington D.C. resident Mark Shields.
In an open letter to Apple, Shields, who describes himself as an "accidental activist," wrote of his disappointment upon finding out that the company, of which he is a customer, uses components made with unfair and dangerous production practices. Shields writes:
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.
While Shields told The Guardian that he doesn't advocate an official boycott of Apple products, he did say that he can't in good conscience purchase the Apple TV that he "really wants." Many, if not most, of the people who signed the petition are Apple customers. According to the Change press release, of the 55,000 people who signed the SumOfUs petition, 35,000 said they owned Apple products.
Shields said he became aware of these abuses while listening to an episode of the "This American Life" radio program, which detailed working conditions in Apple's component factories in China. According to the broadcast, it isn't uncommon for employees to lose the use of their hands due to carpal tunnel brought on by performing the same task over and over for shifts that can last up to 35 hours.
In January Apple revealed its supplier list for the first time ever, as well as the results of an audit that uncovered that some Apple suppliers had employed underage workers and committed environmental offenses. The information discovered by the audit prompted Apple to cease doing business with one supplier. The company also said it would allow an independent group from the Fair Labor Association to keep an eye on its suppliers.
However, after a two-part story was published in The New York Times in late January the distrust of Apple's business practices only increased. The piece offered a harrowing behind-the-scenes look at the deplorable working conditions that exist at multiple Apple supplier factories.
According to Reuters, following the publication of the article, Apple's CEO Tim Cook blasted the Times in an email to employees. The message read in part, "What we will not do -- and never have done -- is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain. Any suggestion that we don't care is patently false and offensive to us."
Those who signed the petition find Cook's assertion of ignorance a bit hard to swallow. In a statement on the SumOfUs website, executive director Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman said, "Apple's attention to detail is famous, and the only way they could fail to be aware of dozens of worker deaths, of child labor, of exposure to neurotoxins is through willful ignorance."
Apple is certainly not the only electronics giant guilt of labor abuses, and many of the manufacturers that work with Apple also supply companies such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Dell. As The Guardian notes, "Though such problems also occur at many other western consumer electrical companies that have their products made in China, Apple's position as a brand leader -- and its huge profits -- make it a high-profile case."
According to Tech Crunch, a group called Swagg Security hacked into Apple supplier factory Foxconn's computer system and uploaded usernames and passwords to file hosting website The Pirate Bay.