WASHINGTON, D.C. - Protesters rallied at the Apple store in Washington, D.C., Thursday morning to deliver roughly 250,000 signatures in a demonstration calling for an end to what they call unethical manufacturing practices at the tech giant's factories in China.
The protest was one of six being held in cities around the world inspired by Mark Shields - a consultant from Washington D.C. - who launched a petition on change.org in January. Shields is a self-described Apple user who became mobilized after hearing reports of poor working conditions at factories run by Foxconn, one of Apple's biggest suppliers.
Shields says he heard about reports of abuse while listening to the radio. "I was pottering around my kitchen…[the radio] was all streaming through my MacBook on my Apple AirPort - it was a great yuppie moment - and it was a terrible story about what is happening at the factories making Apple products."
According to a New York Times investigation, Foxconn's Chinese workers are subjected to poor conditions at the company's factories. The reports claim that there have been multiple attempted suicides at its plants, including recently when 150 workers threatened to jump from a roof following a dispute about pay. Other charges against Foxconn include unfair wages and hazardous working conditions.
Shields' demonstration included a small group of signatories and representatives from sumofus.org, another organization which has been collecting signatures to encourage Apple to make the iPhone5 the first ethically manufactured Apple product. Change.org's petition demands that Apple announces "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."
Shields is hopeful that his petition drive will induce a response from Apple. He says he got a very polite response from clerks at the Apple store in Georgetown after delivering three boxes of petitions. "They said that they would share the names and information up the chain of Apple and that I would hear back," he said, "I left my name and phone number and I look forward to hearing back about this."
Asked what Apple products he owns, Shields said, "I've got my iPhone, I've got a MacBook Pro at home, my Apple AirPort which is how I listen to music at home. I've got a couple of old iPods kicking around. I've been an Apple user for a long time." While he did not say whether he would give up using Apple products, he did admit to having a "knot in his stomach" about the company.
"If they want to be a leader, we hope that they'll lead. Apple's branding is about think different, we are here today to say Apple, please do that. Do spend your energy and think differently about how these products are made."
Protests were also held at Apple stores in New York, San Francisco, London, Sydney and Bangalore on Thursday.
In a statement to ABC News, Apple said: "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. Our suppliers must live up to these requirements if they want to keep doing business with Apple. Every year Apple inspects more factories, going deeper into the supply chain and raising the bar for our suppliers. In 2011 we conducted 229 audits at supplier facilities around the world and reported their progress on apple.com. Last month Apple became the first technology company admitted to the Fair Labor Association, a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving conditions for workers around the world. The FLA's auditing team will have direct access to our supply chain and they will report their findings independently on their website."