At Apple’s Grand Central store in New York City today, the protest drew more members of the media than actual protesters.
Outnumbered by journalists and even police officers, the group of fewer than 10 protesters showed up this morning to deliver a petition signed by about 250,000 people, urging Apple to make an “ethical” iPhone 5 at facilities with better working conditions than those at Taipei-based Foxconn, Apple’s biggest supplier.
“They need to start respecting workers’ rights in China,” said Sarah Ryan, a human rights organizer with Change.org. Ryan and Shelby Knox, a director at the organization (and who was dressed as an iPhone), delivered the petition in a big cardboard box to the store manager. The petition gained much of its momentum through social media sites.
Protestors included Stephen Groth, former chief financial officer of CAMAC Energy Inc., who took the train 40 minutes from Westchester, New York, to show his support for the petition.
“I will not get another iPhone if they don’t fix this,” said Groth, whose family owns three of the smartphones. “I don’t want to be part of something that is going to result in people being harmed.”
Michael Gsovski, an intern with the nonprofit group China Labor Watch, also came to show his support. He was hoping for a bigger turnout.
“With Facebook you have to take the number who say they are going to attend and divide by 10, but it was a little underwhelming,” he said.
In a statement, Apple said it insists that 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.”
Tim Cook, the company’s CEO, has said previously that he is “attacking problems” with conditions at these factories. The company also agreed to let outside monitors into factories of partners, such as Foxconn, and listed its suppliers for the first time.
Apple isn’t the only tech company being pressured to improve working conditions and supplier compliance with human rights standards.
Comptroller John C. Liu and the New York City Pension Funds called on several tech companies including Dell Inc., Intel Corp. and Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. to track the worker rights and safety of their suppliers and then publish reports, according to a statement from the comptroller’s office today.
The technology firms that rely on Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer, and other global suppliers “have increasingly been made aware that responsible business practices are vital to their future success,” the statement said. “Although some companies have internal ‘codes of conduct’ for their suppliers, it is clear that this is not sufficient and has not curbed abuses.”