162,000 sign petition targeting Apple's Chinese factory conditions

The petition asks Apple to take steps to protect workers at factories that make iPhones and iPads

An online petition asking Apple to protect the Chinese workers who make its more popular products has gathered more than 162,000 signatures in just over a week.

The petition, at Change.org, is a response to recent media reports alleging poor working conditions at factories operated by Chinese companies that have contracts to build iPhones, iPads and other popular Apple products.

Mark Shields, a Washington, D.C., communications consultant, started the petition after hearing about working conditions in the Chinese factories on "This American Life," a radio show.

The same week as Shields started the petition, the New York Times published a lengthy story alleging long work hours and unsafe conditions at factories operated by Apple partner Foxconn Technology.

The radio report talked about repetitive motion injuries and other problems at Apple partner factories, Shields wrote in his petition. "We ask that Apple release a worker protection strategy for new product releases, which are the instances when injuries and suicides typically spike because of the incredible pressure to meet quotas timed to releases," he wrote.

Shields described himself as an Apple "super-user," but said the report upset him.

"Here's the thing: you're Apple," he wrote in the petition. "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."

Apple didn't respond to a request for comments on the petition. Apple CEO Tim Cook was reportedly "outraged" by the New York Times report. Cook promised in a letter to Apple employees to "dig deeper" into allegations of poor working conditions at the Chinese factories.

Shields' campaign has been "remarkable," said Amanda Kloer, director of organizing for Change.org, a site that allows users to start petitions. "He learned about an injustice associated with his favorite products, and instead of just feeling angry or sad, he decided to fight that injustice using his power as a consumer," she said. "It has been incredible to watch his campaign take off."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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