Apple store protests planned for Thursday

February 9, 2012

Protesters descended on Apple stores around the world, including in Washington, on Thursday to protest labor conditions at the company’s manufacturing facilities in China.

The issue has become a thorny one for Apple after the factories that make its products experienced explosions in 2011 and worker suicides in 2010. A recent report in The New York Times contained graphic descriptions of cramped working conditions and the voices of workers who said they were suffering injuries from repetitive motion and exposure to chemicals.

The protesters have collected more than 250,000 signatures from users on sites such as Change.org and Sumofus.org. The petitions will be delivered to the company, while demonstrations will be held in New York, San Francisco, London, Sydney and Bangalore. In Georgetown, a dozen people or so are expected to begin protests outside an Apple store around 10 a.m.

Many of the world’s top electronics manufacturers, including Dell, HP and Microsoft, use some of the same suppliers as Apple. But activists have singled out the Cupertino, Calif.-based company as its devices have soared in popularity, transforming the company into the most valuable in the world.

Some of the protesters acknowledge they own Apple devices. One petition, which carries almost 195,000 signatures, asks Apple to “Please make these changes immediately, so that each of us can once again hold our heads high and say, ‘I’m a Mac person.’ ”

Apple has said it is working to bring factory conditions in line with company standards. The company put about 1 million workers through education programs on working hours, wages and labor rights.

“We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain,” Apple spokesman Steve Dowling told The Post. “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.”

In January, Apple published a company audit of its supply chain. That found 62 percent of the 229 facilities were not in compliance with the company’s policies regarding a maximum 60-hour work week. In addition, 44 percent did not implement the company’s required ergonomic risk assessments, which would prevent repetitive injuries. Apple ended relationships with two suppliers that repeatedly violated its conditions.

Dowling noted that Apple was the first technology firm to be admitted into the Fair Labor Association, which will publish independent audits of the company’s supply lines in the future.

In the petition on Change.org, organizer Mark Shields said that he applauds Apple for asking the FLA to monitor its suppliers. He called on the company to publish its reports on its Web site and include the names of suppliers and specific descriptions of violations of the company’s standards.

SumofUs Executive Director Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman said she expects about a dozen people to protest at the store in Georgetown. Amanda Kloer, a spokeswoman for Change.org, said similar numbers are expected at the other locations around the world.

The protest isn’t intended to be a mass movement, Kloer said, just a way to ensure that Apple is hearing the concerns of its customers.

“Apple has proved itself in the past responsive to consumer demands on Change.org,” she said.

Kloer said she has reached out to Apple about the petition and planned protests, but has not received a response.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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