Thursday at 10 a.m. local time (doesn’t matter what zone), customers plan to waltz into Apple's headquarters and stores located in Washington D.C., New York, San Francisco, London, Sydney and Bangalore. Their mission: to deliver petitions signed by 250,000 people asking the company to develop a worker protection strategy for those constructing iPhones in its Chinese supplier factories. The signatures were collected by Change.org and SumOfUs.org.
By swarming into Apple's HQ and stores, protestors believe they represent the voice of every Apple customer. As of this writing, 56,464 have signed the SumOfUs petition, more than 35,000 of which purchase Apple products. Out of this latter group, 20,00 own an iPhone. On the Change.org front, 194,999 out of 200,000 people have signed D.C.-based Mark Shields' petition.
"I use an iPhone myself. I love it, but I don’t love having to support sweatshops, and neither do millions of other Apple consumers," said Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, executive director of SumOfUs. "The hip, educated market that Apple aspires to corner is largely composed of responsible consumers who don’t want to be complicit in sweatshop labor. Apple’s attention to detail is famous, and the only way they could fail to be aware of dozens of worker deaths, of child labor, of exposure to neurotoxins is through willful ignorance."
While news of Foxconn's suicides have been topics for some time, a heated interest in Apple's worker policies ignited after an episode of Public Radio International's "This American Life." The report talked about the working conditions in Apple's manufacturing facilities, and even revealed adolescents working 16 hours a day and making 70 cents an hour. After that, the New York Times and other well-established news outlets published their own reports.
Following the reports, Apple CEO Tim Cook claimed that Apple cared about every worker in the supply chain, and vowed to dig deeper into the allegations. He said the company also has the Fair Labor Association monitoring its suppliers. Protestors retaliated, saying it's a step in the right direction, but want the names of the suppliers found to have violations and what those violations are "so that there is transparency around the monitoring effort."
"If Tim Cook is really offended by these allegations, why isn’t he doing anything to fix the problems? This is the supply chain he set up as COO — he needs to start taking responsibility, not blaming the messenger," Stinebrickner-Kauffman added. "Every time a Foxconn worker is killed or disabled making an Apple product, Mr. Cook bears personal moral responsibility. Apple’s enforcement of razor-thin profit margins at suppliers invites – and may even force – them to slash workers’ rights. But Apple is going to have much bigger longer-term problems than paying a few extra dollars for its products if it loses its luster with ethical consumers."
It's unknown how many people will actually visit Apple's HQ and stores on Thursday, but they'll walk in wearing iPhone costumes. If that's not obvious enough, they'll also be the ones waving around iPhone posters and delivering petitions in Mac boxes. Unfortunately, iPad and iPod Touch owners aren't invited to the costume party.