Fair-labor organizers delivered 250,000 signatures to Apple stores in six cities around the world on Thursday in protest of the company’s working conditions in China.

Apple’s main factory, Foxconn, has faced numerous accusations of providing an inhumane work environment to Chinese workers.

“It’s hard to hear tales of people jumping off buildings and using their hands until they can’t anymore,” said senior organizer of Change.org William Winters, who delivered a stack of petitions to the San Francisco Apple store on Stockton Street. The rest of the 250,000 signatures were being delivered to Apple stores in five other cities in the U.S., the UK, Australia and India.

Foxconn has been accused of making laborers work long hours without breaks, use dangerous chemicals that have caused severe health problems and exposing workers to dangerous conditions. The repetitive work and spartan living conditions have also been to blame for suicides at the factory.

Charlotte Hill, communications manager at Change.org, pleaded with Apple to use its creativity to “think ethically” and create an iPhone without using factories that have harsh working conditions.

“No iPhone is worth that cost,” she said.

A group of protestors and an even larger group of media gathered outside the San Francisco Apple store in mid-morning as employees watched from inside the store. An Apple employee who wouldn’t give his name said the employees had no idea the demonstration was going to happen. It was a peaceful event — Winters and a group of other protestors brought the petitions inside the store and soon exited.

The electronic signatures were gathered through Change.org and SumOfUs.org. Apple fan Mark Shields started the campaign after he listened to an episode of the This American Life podcast and was sickened to learn about the working conditions for employees at Foxconn.

Winters said they hope that by delivering their message to Apple and Tim Cook, it will shine a spotlight on “workers in China at the Foxconn factory who work in inhumane conditions.”

“I’m fairly confident that Apple’s going to get the message loud and clear,” he added.

Apple released its list of suppliers last month in an effort to be more transparent. Apple also agreed to a labor audit by the Fair Labor Association. It’s the first tech company to do so.

“We hope this sparks a revolution of sorts with consumers who now realize that they can go to Change.org and start a petition for social change and actually create a change they want to see in the world,” Winters said.

What do you think about Apple’s labor practices in China? Have you or will you get involved in any Apple protests or sign a petition? Sound off in the comments.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Camrocker

More About: apple, change.org, china, Foxconn, labor conditions, petition, protest, trending

For more Dev & Design coverage:


376-uk-ie6-petition

In February 2010, I reported that UK citizens could sign an online petition which demanded Internet Explorer 6 updates across all Government departments. The 6 June deadline has now passed and the Government has posted their response. You won’t be happy — they’re keeping IE6.

It’s a shame but we shouldn’t be surprised. The petition attracted just 6,223 signatures so it was hardly a mandate from the British people. That’s a reasonable number of web designers and developers but, since we’re the main beneficiaries, no one could say it was unbiased.

The petition’s biggest mistake was to cite security as the main concern:

IE6 has some security flaws that leave users vulnerable. These two governments (France and Germany) have let their populations know that an upgrade will keep them safer online. We should follow them.

The issue was too vague and could be accused of scaremongering. The Government’s response:

Complex software will always have vulnerabilities and motivated adversaries will always work to discover and take advantage of them. There is no evidence that upgrading away from the latest fully patched versions of Internet Explorer to other browsers will make users more secure. Regular software patching and updating will help defend against the latest threats. The Government continues to work with Microsoft and other internet browser suppliers to understand the security of the products used by HMG, including Internet Explorer and we welcome the work that Microsoft are continuing do on delivering security solutions which are deployed as quickly as possible to all Internet Explorer users.

Each Department is responsible for managing the risks to its IT systems based on Government Information Assurance policy and technical advice from CESG, the National Technical Authority for Information Assurance. Part of this advice is that regular software patching and updating will help defend against the latest threats. It is for individual departments to make the decision on how best to manage the risk based on this clear guidance.

IE6 has had more it’s fair share of vulnerabilities, but it’s also received a decade’s worth of security patches. In Europe, the browser’s market share has fallen below 3.5% so it’s no longer a high-priority target for hackers. Finally, Government departments have stringent security systems in place: it’s not easy for a user to become infected when they can’t access the outside web.

Perhaps the petition would have had a better chance during less challenging economic times. The final part of the Government response highlights the complexity and cost to the taxpayer:

It is not straightforward for HMG departments to upgrade IE versions on their systems. Upgrading these systems to IE8 can be a very large operation, taking weeks to test and roll out to all users. To test all the web applications currently used by HMG departments can take months at significant potential cost to the taxpayer. It is therefore more cost effective in many cases to continue to use IE6 and rely on other measures, such as firewalls and malware scanning software, to further protect public sector internet users.

The new UK Government has embarked on a massive cost-cutting exercise. Citizens are unlikely to be receptive toward millions spent on IT upgrades of negligible benefit when that cost can be directly compared against job losses, nurses salaries, education and defense budgets.

The problem for us is that 12 months is a long time in Internet years and browser upgrading is easy. Yet most Government IT projects have a minimum timescale of 5 to 10 years and the technologies they adopt are reliable (they’re already old). Even those departments undergoing an upgrade are only just moving to IE7. It’s frustrating but, even if they implemented Firefox 3.6 or Chrome 5 today, we’d be demanding further upgrades within a few months.

Ultimately, you have an easy choice. If you don’t want to develop for IE6, don’t undertake jobs where it’s a requirement.

Read the full UK Government IE6 petition response…