Sarah Ryan, right, and Shelby Knox deliver a box with 250,000 signatures protesting working conditions at Chinese factories that manufacture Apple products to the Apple Store in Grand Central Station.
Protesters Thursday delivered a petition with 250,000 signatures to the Apple Store in Grand Central Station in New York as part of an international demonstration about working conditions at Foxconn, a day after hackers infiltrated computers at the now-notorious Taiwanese tech manufacturer and main Apple supplier.
The hack, which exposed Foxconn employee emails and passwords, and Thursday's demonstration organized by Change.org and SumOfUs.org, reflect a growing unease among U.S. consumers following a recent New York Times series about the harsh environment at the largest tech-manufacturer in the world, with many other U.S. tech giants among its customers.
The Times documented the cramped living conditions of Foxconn employees as well as excessive hours on the job and 7-day work weeks in which employees stand for hours without break. As well as reporting underage employees and workers exposed to deadly chemicals used to build and clean Apple products, the story also documented deadly accidents at the plant and included more than a few damning quotes about Apples' ambivalence about working conditions:
"If Apple was warned, and didn’t act, that’s reprehensible," said Nicholas Ashford, a former chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, a group that advises the United States Labor Department." But what’s morally repugnant in one country is accepted business practices in another, and companies take advantage of that."
Apple CEO Tim Cook, in an email to employees after the story ran, said claims that Apple didn't care about the welfare of Foxconn workers are "patently false."
"What we will not do — and never have done — is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain," he said in the email. "On this you have my word."
Organizers behind Thursday's demonstration however, want more than Cook's word.
"Right now we have a huge opportunity as ethical consumers: The launch of the iPhone 5 later this year will be new Apple CEO Tim Cook’s first big product rollout, and he can’t afford for anything to go wrong — including negative publicity around how Apple’s suppliers treat their workers," reads a portion of the petition, available online. "That’s why we’re launching a campaign this week to get Apple to overhaul the way its suppliers treat their workers in time for the launch of the iPhone 5."
As well as the Grand Central Station store, demonstrators are set to deliver petitions to other Apple locations in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Bangalore, London and Sydney, where activists will also pass out educational leaflets to passers-by.
Meanwhile, the hacker collective Swagg Security, which took credit for leaking Foxconn employee emails and passwords — including the personal email for Foxconn CEO Terry Gou — initially cited Foxconn working conditions in a message reporting the hack. The overall explanation, posted on Pastebin — the de facto bulletin board for hack announcements — more reflects how any company in the negative spotlight should expect some sort of server infiltration:
"Although we are considerably disappointed of the conditions of Foxconn, we are not hacking a corporation for such a reason and although we are slightly interested in the existence of an iPhone 5, we are not hacking for this reason. We hack for the cyberspace who share a few common viewpoints and philosophies. We enjoy exposing governments and corporations, but the more prominent reason, is the hilarity that ensues when compromising and destroying an infrastructure."
More about Apple:
- Post SOPA, it's time to protest ACTA (on Feb. 11)
- Your iPhone was built, in part, by 13 year-olds in China
- Apple: The Chinese want jobs, too!