There were more reporters than protestors at a rally today at the new Apple store in Grand Central. A lot more reporters.
But it’s an important cause, especially for you iPhone-iPad-MacBook-Apple-loving folks, so listen up!
SumOfUs and Change.org, two groups speaking out against labor practices in China, partnered up today to pressure Apple to address recent reports around the inhumane labor conditions in the factories that build the technology giant’s products.
Officially, the groups arrived at 10 a.m. this morning to deliver a petition to the store. But as soon as the organizers — four or so of them — arrived, it quickly became a media spectacle. We’re talking about Runnin’ Scared running in circles in a fruitless effort to keep up with dozens of cameras and reporters surrounding the protestors as they ascended the steps of Grand Central to enter the Apple store.
Honestly, we didn’t exactly know what was going on. We thought it was going to be some kind of rally with speeches, but instead, the event involved protestors handing a petition over to an Apple representative, before they were immediately forced to exit the premises of the store. Then, they faced questions from dozens of reporters.
Before we get to this morning’s chaos at Grand Central, let us briefly review the controversy here.
A production at the Public Theater called The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs first brought some attention last year to Apple’s outsourcing mega-giant that overlooks worker exploitation and child labor.
The talent behind that project, Mike Daisey, got a lot more traction when he did a show for NPR’s This American Life chronicling a trip to China where he investigating the horrific labor practices in Shenzhen, China where Apple’s products are built (by a company called Foxconn).
Since Daisey’s efforts, the New York Times has launched a large series investigating the matter — delving into the dangerous and sometimes deadly work conditions at this factory. (Employees sometimes work seven days a week. They live in crowded dorms. They work so many hours sometimes they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products there. The company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste. And more.)
The media attention inspired the Change.org petition, which now has nearly 200,000 signatures and asks Apple to protect workers in China.
Today, we caught up with Daisey at Grand Central who was there in support of the Change.org effort. (We spoke to him after the huge media crowd and handful of protestors were escorted downstairs away from the Apple store).
He started off discussing the challenges — and sometimes failures — of technology journalists to address these labor issues.
“Technology journalism is really challenged because you’re subordinate to the corporations. You rely on those products being released and you getting early access to them and that actually informs your news cycle and that’s going to make you very vulnerable to not telling stories that need to be told,” Daisey told Runnin’ Scared. “A lot of technology journalists, especially online ones, they sort of self-identify as lovers of technology, more than they do journalists.”
He added, “There’s nothing that’s anti-technology about actually telling the labor conditions under which things are made.”
The larger challenge, he said, is that it can be tough to raise awareness and make a difference when we are so removed from the problem: “We’re very carved off from our manufacturing. It’s happening half-way across the world, so the challenge is making our voice heard to corporations.”
Runnin’ Scared, recording the interview with an iPhone, asked Daisey what New Yorkers who feel Apple-dependent should do about this issue. Daisey, who once called himself “an Apple fanboy” and “a worshiper in the cult of Mac,” said that people need to talk about this problem and spread the word.
“The most important thing we can do is be informed. We’re not awake yet. People don’t actually know the story,” he said. “Using these wonderful devices, we actually have the ability to go on the web and read more. And there’s more and more coming out everyday.”
After Daisey was surrounded by a fresh group of reporters who realized he was important, we ran over to Shelby Knox, a Change.org director dressed as an iPhone to ask her what she thought Apple-lovers should do about these labor practices.
She was more direct: “Make the real choice to not buy more Apple products. Now that you know, how can you ever buy one again with a clear conscience until they change their practices?”
This afternoon, Runnin’ Scared spoke on the phone with Apple spokeswoman Amy Bessette who said that Apple is committed to providing safe conditions to its workers — noting that it is the first technology company that is part of the Fair Labor Association, a nonprofit group.
She noted that Apple conducted 229 audits in 2011 at supplier facilities around the world and reported their progress. Additionally, she said, the FLA has direct access to Apple’s supply chain and will report its findings.
“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,” she said. “Our suppliers must live up to these requirements if they want to keep doing business with Apple.”