Wednesday (March 7) may be a celebration day for Apple, but it’s also a time when labor activists make their case for ethical working conditions where the new iPads are made. First came a quarter million petitions a few weeks ago. Now it’s a flood of postings on the iTunes Facebook page.
Change.org, which led the original petition drive, is asking supporters to post messages demanding an "ethical iPad 3." (The official product name is still a mystery, as Apple has simply called it “the new iPad.”) People are demanding that workers who make the devices be treated better.
“I want to listen to my music on an "Ethical !Pad3!- APPLE - Change the Factory Workers conditions!” wrote Facebook poster Gaia Little.
Many of the posts quote directly from the petition originally written by Mark Shields and visible on his Change.org page: "As Apple unveils the iPad3 today, I'm asking them to also unveil a new product release plan to protect factory workers from forced overtime, unfair quotas, injury, and death during new releases. I want to listen to iTunes on an ethical iPad."
The Facebook campaign is in conjunction with the online petition calling for Apple to release a "worker protection strategy" for the employees of subcontractors that provide parts to Apple. It also calls for releasing the results of monitoring by the Fair Labor Association. The online petition on Change.org has gathered some 241,000 signatures over several weeks.
"We're looking for concrete steps," Shields, who describes himself as a longtime Apple user, told TechNewsDaily. Besides writing the petition, Shields helped organize a leafleting campaign in front of Apple stores in several cities.
Working conditions at factories that make Apple products came to light earlier this year. The New York Times ran a series of stories about the employees and Apple's longstanding practice of outsourcing manufacturing to China and elsewhere.
"As a consumer, I mean, I love Apple products," Shields says, "but like a lot of people I assumed they were machine-made."
Much of the attention has been focused on Foxconn, where several components of Apple's iPad and iPhones are made. In 2010 several workers committed suicide, and four Foxconn workers were killed and 18 injured in a May 2011 explosion.
“I'll buy an iPad when the suicides stop,” posted a user named Victor Tu.
“How about unveiling a plan to making working conditions better at the Foxconn plant? Your pre-paid inspection crew would be laughable if it wasn't so dreadfully sad,” wrote Matthew Harding.
Apple's new iPad has a higher-resolution display and camera, so it's possible the company is using a different set of suppliers for those parts. Not every subcontractor appears on Apple's supplier list, and the list doesn't specify which parts each supplier makes.
Apple has a program of verifying that working conditions at the suppliers' factories are up to local standards. (While it is not always enforced, Chinese law mandates some worker protections and prohibits practices such as child labor.)
One Facebook poster, Jeff L. Crowder, questioned the credibility of the others, writing: “Everyone get off your high horses. ... If you were really that appalled by how Apple did things, you would have thrown out your iWhatever and unliked this page!”
Shields said Change.org is focusing on Apple because it is high-profile, which gives it a lot of sway with the suppliers, though they build for several of Apple's competitors as well.
Whether pressure on Apple will change anything is open to debate. Apple has stressed in the past that its contractors are independent and that Apple's executives in Cupertino, Calif., have little influence over them. At the same time, though, Apple is famous for squeezing the most it can out of its suppliers as they vie for Apple's business, and those demands get passed down to the suppliers' workers.
"If Apple can innovate, then they can innovate in their manufacturing so it doesn't have to be this way," Shields said.
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