Following the recent rumor that Apple will unveil its highly anticipated successor to the most popular tablet ever in less than a month, the cacophony of iPad 3 buzz has grown deafening. Yet at the same time, a very different sort of cry is developing—one that the tech Goliath (at the time of this writing valued greater than Microsoft and Google — combined) is less experienced in dealing with.
Protesters on four continents organized yesterday at Apple retail stores in London, Bangalore, Washington DC, San Francisco, Sydney, and New York City, in an effort to draw attention to inhumane working conditions at the Asian factories that manufacture Apple’s sought-after products. Online social activism groups Change.org and SumOfUs.org co-sponsored an online petition that has amassed 250,000 signatures over the past two weeks, and which was delivered in person to an international selection of Apple retail outlets. The petition calls for the ethical manufacturing of Apple products, and for Apple to respond to reports of employee abuses at its factories in China.
“We’re coming together as fans of Apple, who buy their products, to say, we want an ethical product,” Shelby Knox, the director of Change.org told NPR at the newly opened Apple Store in Grand Central Station. “You are a leader in technology and we want you to be a leader in making ethical products for us to use.”
An expose published by The New York Times last month described working conditions at Foxconn, the mighty Chinese manufacturer responsible for making the iPhone and iPad, as horrific. Other reports of employee suicides at Foxconn’s factories have cast a spotlight on the immense human toll high-tech manufacturing has taken on rapidly developing countries such as China.
“Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records,” wrote the New York Times.
Tim Cook, Apple’s current CEO, was intimately involved in Apple’s manufacturing processes in his former role as Chief Operating Officer, and he responded to the allegations this week by stating that “Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us,” according to an internal email that was leaked to the press.
To add to Apple’s woes, the hacker collective SwaggSec this week released a massive trove of information stolen from Foxconn’s internal networks, including confidential documents, usernames, and passwords of Foxconn customers such as Apple, Intel, IBM, and Microsoft. Although the hacker group’s publication of such data may have been timed to coincide with the recent developments, SwaggSec stated in a missive posted to Pastebin that its goals were assuredly not socially motivated:
“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.”
Image Credit: NPR