With Apple’s labor practices in the spotlight, an online group has started a petition asking the company to make its next iPhone model “ethical.”

Nearly 40,000 people have signed the petition to Apple on the online petition site called SumofUs.org, asking Apple to “overhaul the way its suppliers treat their workers in time for the launch of the iPhone 5.”

Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, executive director of SumOfUs, said that — as an Apple user herself — she would like to see Apple reform its labor practices, even if it means taking a hit to it profit margin or passing some of the costs onto consumers.

“I think there are lots of people who love Apple products, but are unhappy about the labor conditions,” she said. “We believe there are many ethical consumers out there who identify with these brands and want that part of their life to be equally as ethical. If you wouldn’t have a slave in your home, you also wouldn’t want to have one making your iPhone.”

Stinebrickner-Kauffman would also like to see Apple open its factories to independent audits. While the company recently joined the Fair Labor Association, she said that she would like to see another independent auditing group review the factories as well.

She would also like to see Apple extend the same protections to workers in Asia as it does to its workers in the United States, even if it takes a hit to its profit margin. Citing statistics from The New York Times, she said that it would add just $65 to the price of each iPhone to pay Chinese workers American wages, which she said could come out of Apple’s profit margin on each phone, which the report estimates to be in the hundreds of dollars. The Apple petition is the “most viral” of all of the petitions the Web site has posted in its short history, she said.

SumofUs.org, which Stinebrickner-Kauffman founded this past November, has also promoted petitions aimed at getting Google to leave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and pressuring Trader Joe’s to sign the Fair Food Agreement.

Apple has yet to release an official statement on the opposition to its labor practices, though the company did release a list of its suppliers and its annual audit of its supply chain last month. That report included recorded labor and environmental violations as well as details about Apple’s worker education programs.

In an internal e-mail, chief executive Tim Cook told staff that the company cares “about every worker in our worldwide supply chain.” He continued: “Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us. As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values.”

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