Apple, which did not respond to a request for comment for this story, has acknowledged the workplace issues in its partners' facilities, and has implemented a supplier code of conduct and audited factories to evaluate their health, safety and environmental conditions, in addition to the independent inspections conducted by the Fair Labor Association.
"When suppliers don't respect the code or they refuse to take corrective actions based on audits, we terminate our relationship with those suppliers," Apple says on its website.
"I think that Apple has in the past proved themselves a sort of company that is responsive to consumer requests," said Amanda Kloer, Change.org's director of organizing, who donned a homemade iPhone sandwich board at Thursday's demonstration.
"Apple has not made a response so far to this petition or to this campaign or to any others that I've seen, but I know that they have heard consumer feedback in the past for campaigns and responded to those with changes, so I'm hopeful that we'll be able to see some improvements down the line in their manufacturing process as a result of this."
The conditions that workers assembling Apple products at Foxconn endure are often attributed to a combination of the scant workplace protections in China and the demanding quotas that Apple sets in anticipation of new product launches.
The organizers of the petition drive emphasized that they are not calling on Apple to reinvent its supply chain, but rather to enforce its code of conduct for manufacturers more vigorously and hold its up auditing process for public scrutiny. Those reforms would lower production quotas to more manageable levels and offer workers relief from the repetitive motion tasks that have reportedly left some without the use of their hands.
"There's a lot of really simple things that Apple could do to improve working conditions that are not going to be incredibly costly," Kloer said. "This campaign isn't asking Apple, for example, to move manufacturing back to the United States. It's asking them to put in basic worker protections."
Many other prominent consumer electronics companies rely on Foxconn and other overseas manufacturers with questionable employment practices. When asked why they are singling out Apple, several of the petition's signatories said that they are appealing to that company due to its position as a market leader. The activists are hopeful that Apple, which reported $13.06 billion in profits on sales of $46.3 billion in its last quarter, is uniquely positioned to pressure its suppliers to improve their working conditions, and that a firm stance would, as Shields put it, create a "trickle down effect" that would extend to other companies.
"Apple, by being so visible, the hope is that it has much more power over Foxconn than a lot of other companies," said Claiborne Deming Jr., research coordinator at SumofUs.org. "Foxconn will listen to Apple much more so than it will listen to Amazon or HP."
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