foxconn-hmed-0954pphotoblog600.jpgYesterday I wrote about Apple’s announcement that it enlisted a labor group to probe harsh conditions at the company’s manufacturing operations in China.

It’s unclear if this is a real attempt to deal with mass suicides and child labor violations, among other horrors at the facilities, or just a PR stunt. But what we do know is the company felt compelled to do something.

Why? It turns out, the iPhone and iPad devotees out there aren’t all drinking the Apple Kool-Aid.

I know Apple products are great. I’m typing this post on a MacBook Pro right now. But how will Corporate America ever clean up its act if we, the consumers, don’t take a stand against unethical things companies do? I have written in the past about how so many of us, especially Apple fanatics, don’t even care about labor violations. I’m glad to say today that I’m eating my words. An Apple zealot should get a lot of credit for forcing the company’s hand.

shields.jpgMark Shields, a Mac lover, started a petition on titled “Apple: Protect Workers Making iPhones in Chinese Factories” and it now has more than 200,000 signatures.

Here’s an excerpt:

Dear Apple,

You know what’s awesome? Listening to NPR podcasts through an Apple Airport, playing through a Mac laptop, while puttering about the kitchen. Do you know the fastest way to replace awesome with a terrible knot in your stomach? Learning that your beloved Apple products are made in factories where conditions are so bad, it’s not uncommon for workers to permanently lose the use of their hands.

Last week’s This American Life shined a spotlight on the working conditions in the Chinese factories where iPhones are made. Just one example of the hardships there: the men and women in these factories work very long days spent repeating the same motions over and over, which creates amped-up carpal tunnel syndrome in their wrists and hands. This often results in them losing the use of their hands for the rest of their lives. This condition could be easily prevented if the workers were rotated through different positions in the factory, but they are not. Why? Because there are no labor laws in China to protect these people.

Many labor experts speculated that this petition, and national protests at Apple stores around the globe, helped push the company to take some serious action. Clearly, corporations don’t want their biggest fans unhappy.

The key now is making sure Apple keeps its word. Several labor groups told me yesterday they aren’t convinced the group Apple chose, the Fair Labor Association, (FLA) is up to the job, especially since many of the organizations members are apparel companies. And they also wonder why the company needs yet another organization conducting studies when Apple already is aware of conditions at its main producer Foxconn’s facilities in China.

“I doubt Apple is not aware of the problem,” said Debby Chan, with SACOM, a China-based worker advocacy group. “Therefore, the key issue is if Apple has commitment to rectify the problems rather than commission FLA or other consultants to point out the problems and solutions.”

In the end, it’s all about how the company follows through, Chan maintained, adding that “The commitment from Apple is crucial.”

It seems Shields plans to stay on top of Apple.

He wrote:

Please make these changes immediately, so that each of us can once again hold our heads high and say, “I’m a Mac person.”

Your own ads say that “the people who think they are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Please get to it.

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