Apple Faces Protests After Manufacturing Revelations

Apple fans are to urged the company to take a more ethical manufacturing stance after recent reports of worker conditions

Apple is facing a user backlash from some of its dedicated fanbase after protesters said they will ask the device maker to live up to its own advertising and think different, especially when it comes to how the company manufactures its iPhones and iPads.

After The New York Times ran a seven-page expose – quickly followed by similar reports from CBS News and This American Life among other news outlets – on worker conditions at the Foxconn factory in China, which produces products for Apple among other top electronics brands, Apple’s biggest fans are calling for change.

Petition Protest

On 9 February, a petition created by – now nearly 200,000-signatures strong – as well as one from, nearing 60,000 signatures, will be hand-delivered to Apple retail stores in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, London, Sydney and Bangalore, CNNMoney has reported. The events are trending on Twitter under the tag #OccupyApple.

“Your own ads say that ‘the people who think they are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do,'”’s Mark Shields wrote in the petition, which includes “two simple asks.” They are:

First, in regards to the worker traumas described in the [This American Life] story, ranging from suicide attempts to the people losing the use of their hands from repetitive motion injuries, we ask that Apple release a worker protection strategy for new product releases, which are the instances when injuries and suicides typically spike because of the incredible pressure to meet quotas timed to releases.

Second, since the TAL story aired, Apple has announced that the Fair Labor Association will be monitoring its suppliers. Awesome step. Please publish the results of FLA’s monitoring, including the NAMES of the suppliers found to have violations and WHAT those violations are, so that there is transparency around the monitoring effort.

Manufacturing Concern

The iPad 3 is expected to debut in March, but the SumOfUs petition focuses on the next iPhone.

“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,” states the SumOfUs petition. “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.”

Apple’s only response so far has been a company-wide email from CEO Tim Cook to employees, assuring them that any insinuation that Apple doesn’t care about workers is “patently false.”

“Accusations like these are contrary to our values. It’s not who we are,” Cook said in the email, which went on to say that Apple continued to “dig deeper” on issues on work to resolve them.

“What we will not do – and never have done – is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain,” said Cook.

Working Conditions

Certainly, it seems one needn’t dig far to find problems. A recent CNN report included an interview with a Foxconn worker who said she made less than a $1 an hour for her work. “I almost feel like an animal,” she told CNN of being worked so hard.

The New York Times report described Apple, more than other competitors, insisting on the slimmest margins from suppliers, forcing the latter to squeeze profits from other areas.

A 9 February report from Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Walkley shows that Apple, during the fourth quarter of 2011, held a “remarkable” 80 percent share of the industry’s operating profits. Samsung, which shipped 36 million smartphones during the quarter, compared to Apple’s 37 million, by IHS iSuppli numbers, held 15 percent of the industry’s operating profits. Nokia and Research in Motion each held 2 percent.

Shields, in his petition, describes his delight in Apple products being replaced with “a terrible knot,” upon discovering the working conditions that made his Apple devices possible.

“Please make these changes immediately,” he wrote, “so that each of us can once again hold our heads high and say, ‘I’m a Mac person.’”