Protesters target Apple's labor practices

An Apple Inc. logo is displayed outside the exterior of Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif.
February 9, 2012 8:49:06 PM PST
Apple is in the crosshairs because critics want it to improve working conditions in China where Apple products are assembled.

The organizers of a global petition drive say they've collected 250,000 signatures. They turned them over to the Palo Alto Apple store's general manager, hoping they will be forwarded to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

"I'd love my Apple products so much more if I knew that they weren't being made by workers who are suffering from these abuses," petition supporter Charlotte Hill said.

Critics allege that employees assembling Apple products at contractors in China stand long hours and suffer from repetitive motion injuries.

Apple's website features a detailed section on supplier responsibility, listing its contractors, setting out a supplier code of conduct, and posting an annual audit.

A quarter-million petition signatures, though, are difficult to ignore.

"Two hundred fifty thousand petitions that are suddenly revealed to the public is much more dramatic than the type of information you could amass in 30 years ago or 20 years ago," environmental lawyer Paul Carroll said.

While Apple declined an on-camera interview, it issued this statement saying, "We insist that our suppliers provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes wherever Apple products are made. Our suppliers must live up to these requirements if they want to keep doing business with Apple."

Andy Tsay is a supply chain management expert at Santa Clara University's Leavey School of Business. He has visited many contractor facilities in China. He thinks change will come, although there are economic and cultural obstacles.

"Every time they advertise job openings, they have far more people apply for those jobs than there are openings," Tsay said. "So in that case, to play the devil's advocate, the company doesn't really have a very strong incentive to want to do much better than they're already doing."

Apple is working with the non-profit Fair Labor Association, which will audit Apple's practices and make its findings public. Apple is the first electronics company to do this.

The Fair Trade Association has worked mostly with apparel and footwear companies, but it says it believes its experience will help Apple improve conditions in China.


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