Petitions Demand Apple Improve Foxconn Conditions
Two online petitions beseech Apple to improve working conditions in the Chinese factories that make its products.
The petitions, both filed within the last two weeks, follow a renewed round of criticism directed at the company over labor practices at overseas facilities like the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China.
The second petition, from SumOfUs.org, calls upon Apple to make an “ethical” iPhone 5. The petition argues that Apple’s record quarterly earnings mean that it can force suppliers to improve the treatment of factory workers.
According to Cult of Mac, 35,000 individuals signed the SumOfUs petition in its first 24 hours.
While reports on living conditions at the factories, suicides and factory accidents have been covered in the tech and business press over the last three years, the story has received renewed mainstream interest in the last month.
A Renewed Focus on Labor Conditions
In early January, the radio program This American Life aired an episode titled “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.” The episode took a closer look at the issue, using an excerpt from performer Mike Daisey’s one-man show as its base. Daisey, a lifelong Apple fan, traveled to China to see the conditions of the Foxconn factory for himself.
Following the airing of the program, Apple released its annual report on labor conditions. For the first time, Apple listed its suppliers by name. The company also announced that it would be the first technology company to join the Fair Labor Association. Many labor advocates still criticized the company, however, for not making better progress in enforcing compliance with its suppliers.
Topping things off, The New York Times ran a series of articles looking at Apple’s manufacturing relationship with China. The second article took a more critical look at Apple’s role in supplier relations. In a company-wide email, Apple CEO Tim Cook promised to “dig deeper” into the allegations against the company and its suppliers.
Apple One of Many
Of course, Apple isn’t the only company that uses Chinese suppliers and factories to make its products. Foxconn, the company most frequently cited in petitions and reports, is the world’s largest maker of electronic components. The company’s major customers include not just Apple but Amazon Sony, IBM, Dell, Hewlett Packard, Asus, Samsung, Panasonic, Motorola, Nintendo, Microsoft, Vizio, Nokia and Intel.
Other companies also face labor issues in China. Between 3,000 and 4,000 workers staged a protest at a Sanyo factory in Shenzhen in mid-January. That followed a threat of mass suicide by Xbox 360 line-workers at Foxconn. Foxconn was able to negotiate deals with the protesters.
Still, Apple’s position as an admired brand — both in the United States and abroad — seems to hold the company to a higher standard. As a result, we see multiple petitions calling for an ethical iPhone yet little is mentioned about ethical Galaxy Nexus phones or ethical video game consoles.
In the apparel industry, public pressure forced companies such as Nike and The Gap to improve labor conditions in their factories. Time will tell if the electronics industry sees similar changes.