Favourite aggregator of anti-corporate campaigns, SumOfUs, has started a petition calling for an "ethical" iPhone 5, and has already garnered more than 40,000 signatures.
The emotive petition paints a picture of a young girl in a Chinese factory being steadily poisoned by the use of n-hexane, promising that the neurological damage will see her out of a job and on the streets within a few years. It's a call that no one could ignore, and will likely attract the target of 50,000 names pretty soon.
But it's a picture Apple would – and does – dispute. Apple monitors its suppliers, and publishes an annual report detailing everything from failure to wear ear plugs to excessive aluminium dust in the air (the latter being responsible for two, separate, explosions in the last 12 months). Many of the abuses came to light though Apple's own auditing, and the CEO Tim Cook has been busy writing to all the company's employees to remind them how much Apple cares.
"Every year we inspect more factories, raising the bar for our partners and going deeper into the supply chain," says the letter, which is replicated in its entirety by 9to5Mac. The letter concludes with a link to Apple's Supplier Responsibility site and a clear statement that "What we will not do — and never have done — is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain. On this you have my word."
That letter was in response to a detailed examination from The New York Times, which focuses on the explosions but also highlights several occasions where Apple appears to have been warned about problems and had failed to react fast enough to save lives.
The piece quotes a former manager at Foxconn as saying: "Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing production cost" – and goes on to discuss how Apple's insistence on transparency from its suppliers leaves them little room to increase profits without pushing workers, and conditions, harder.
But the petition isn't concerned with the details; it just calls on Apple to be more ethical without any specific demands. It also points out that Cupertino has lots of money, so can afford to be nice, and no one is ever going to stand up and argue that any company should be less ethical.
So if you're an Apple customer, feel free to add your voice. Cupertino is unlikely to make any major changes as a result, but it might make Apple push its existing efforts a little harder. ®