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New iPad Launch Attracts Apple Fans, Protestors, and a Retraction [VIDEO]

For some, the release of Apple’s newest iPad—called just that, the “new iPad”—wasn’t an ecstatic moment. While avid fans camped outside stores around the country, a group of protesters lined the front of the Apple store in Washington, DC, calling on the company to make more ethical choices.

The protestors, inspired by a Change.org petition, brandishing a banner stamped with the ubiquitous Apple icon and the phrase “Think Different, Think Ethical,” a play on founder Steve Jobs’ common saying. They saddled up alongside the line of eager consumers in DC’s Georgetown neighborhood to raise awareness about the true costs of making an iPad.

The small protest was supported (virtually) by 250,000 people, who had signed the successful Change.org petition.

Mark Shields, the DC-based consultant and self-described “non-activist” who started the petition, wanted to get others to ask Apple to release a worker protection strategy to prevent injuries and suicides, which generally spike around product release dates. Shields also demanded through the petition that Apple—who recently became the first tech company to join the Fair Labor Association—allow the association to publish the names of suppliers who violate Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct and specify the violations. 

Some Apple consumers aware of the labor abuses Apple has struggled with recently bought the new iPad anyway—primarily, they said, because they feel the company has been taking steps in the right direction, like publishing lists of global suppliers, releasing Apple-led audits to the public on violations, and raising wages for workers.  

“I think the conversation is headed in the right direction but there is a long way to go,” said new iPad purchaser Stephen Greenwood. “Hopefully conditions will improve greatly, but there are a lot of variables involved. At this point I'm okay with purchasing Apple products because I feel they are actively working to improve the issue.”

Greenwood also said that while he’d be willing to pay more money for his Apple products if they were more ethically produced, he believes most consumers don’t see an ethical difference between Apple and other competing tech companies.

“If there isn't an easily distinguishable ethical choice, consumers are in tough situation. If the consumer has to decide whether to buy ethically questionable products or not buy at all, then the solution has to come from elsewhere,” Greenwood said. “Although the voice of the consumer is powerful, the burden should only rest so much on consumer behavior to influence change with these issues.”

Shields created his Change.org petition after hearing an episode of radio show “This American Life,” featuring author/actor Mike Daisey recounting with rich detail the horrible working conditions he saw on his visit to a factory working on Apple products in China. Not long after the show aired, the program retracted it, saying Daisey “partially fabricated” some of the material.

Daisey responded by saying he felt pressured to tell a compelling story so the conditions would garner enough attention to initiate change. In a statement posted on his website, he said:

I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out. [...] What I do is not journalism.

Indeed, Daisey is right about there being in-depth and credible reporting on the issue, namely from the New York Times, whose reporters have revealed several underlying problems.

A spokesperson from Apple gave the following statement to Campus Progress about the issue:

We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain. 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. Our suppliers must live up to these requirements if they want to keep doing business with Apple.

Every year Apple inspects more factories, going deeper into the supply chain and raising the bar for our suppliers. In 2011 we conducted 229 audits at supplier facilities around the world and reported their progress on apple.com.

Apple recently became the first technology company admitted to the Fair Labor Association, a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving conditions for workers around the world. The FLA's auditing team will have direct access to our supply chain and they will report their findings independently on their website.

(Take Action: Tell Apple to Make an Ethical iPad)

Naima Ramos-Chapman is an associate editor at Campus Progress.

Emily Wathen is an online communications associate at Campus Progress.

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