Consumer groups SumOfUs and Change.org are waging a war over the working conditions at Apple’s (and the rest of the electronics industry’s) main outsourced manufacturer Foxconn. The groups said that over 35,000 people signed their “Stop Worker Abuse” online petition in just 24 hours. Today, the groups announced they would deliver a quarter million petition signatures to Apple.

Furthermore, a protest will be staged tomorrow at 10 a.m. outside Apple’s new Grand Central Terminal retail store and representatives from both SumOfUs and Change.org promised to join the protesters. Change.org’s Mark Shields called abusive working conditions at Foxconn factories “appalling,” adding he was shocked to learn about them.

The two consumer groups are demanding that the iPhone maker release a worker protection strategy for new product releases because these are the instances “when injuries and suicides typically spike because of the incredible pressure to meet quotas timed to releases.” They are also pressuring Apple to publish the results of Fair Labor Association’s audit (to which the company willfully agreed): “Including the NAMES of the suppliers found to have violations and WHAT those violations are, so that there is transparency around the monitoring effort.” The petition (found here) opens with an interesting paragraph:

Dear Apple. You know what’s awesome? Listening to NPR podcasts through an Apple Airport, playing through a Mac laptop, while puttering about the kitchen. Do you know the fastest way to replace awesome with a terrible knot in your stomach? Learning that your beloved Apple products are made in factories where conditions are so bad, it’s not uncommon for workers to permanently lose the use of their hands.

Of course, the NPR podcast reference is to the popular United States radio program “This American Life” that recently aired a feature based on Mike Daisey’s highly acclaimed show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” It exposed the inhumane working conditions at Foxconn sweatshops in Shenzhen, China and prompted the New York Times to publish its controversial story (here and here), followed by similar CNN and CBS features.

The following paragraph from the petition letter is also worth mentioning:

Here’s the thing: you’re Apple. You’re supposed to think different. I want to continue to use and love the products you make, because they’re changing the world, and have already changed my life. But I also want to know that when I buy products from you, it’s not at the cost of horrible human suffering.

If you have followed the story, you know it was really the New York Times article that took this blunder to the next level. It eventually forced Apple’s otherwise calm boss Tim Cook to issue a company-wide communiqué calling these accusations “patently false” and “offensive.” He challenged assertions that Apple had known about working conditions at Foxconn sweatshops but did nothing to improve them. Such accusations are “contrary to our values,” he said, further contending: “It’s not who we are.” By the way, Daisey last week told The Guardian he was taken aback by Apple’s unwillingness to counter the Foxconn issue that has picked up steam over the years:

It is like watching a friend lose his way. It is hard to imagine the Apple of a generation ago making this ham-fisted error. Now all they have to do is clean up the mess, but if they had got ahead of it they could have looked fantastic.

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