Apple customers voice mixed reaction to reports of poor working conditions

A new report details working conditions at Chinese factories, but some customers don't care

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Shields, a communications consultant, said he was "horrified" to hear of working conditions in Apple partner factories through a story on the radio show "This American Life," which he listened to using an Apple laptop and an Apple AirPort Wi-Fi router. "I hope they can do better," he said. "I know they can do better."

Shields' petition had 23 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

By comparison, a petition started in 2011 to have juice maker Apple & Eve stop using Chinese apples has nearly 1,000 signatures. A Change.org petition asking Bank of America to drop a US$5 debit card fee received 306,000 signatures, while a petition asking Verizon Wireless to drop a $2 payment fee drew more than 166,000 signatures.

Apple earlier this month issued a supplier responsibility report, in which the company lists its 156 leading suppliers. Those suppliers account for more than 97 percent of the expenses the company paid contractors for products including the iPhone, iPad and iPod.

Some suppliers, in recent years, have been under scrutiny for allegedly employing underage workers and not taking steps to improve work conditions at factories. Apple, in the supplier report, said it had stepped up audit efforts so suppliers stop employing underage workers and take steps to improve working conditions in factories.

Apple has already dealt with issues around working conditions in China, and the company will not exert additional pressure, said Michael Palma, research manager at IDC.

"In the end, I don't think they are going to change anything," Palma said. "They have gone through four or five major scandals with Foxconn."

Foxconn, which assembles products like the iPhone, iPad and iPod for Apple, has come under scrutiny over the past few years after a string of suicide attempts at facilities in China. Other Foxconn partners include Dell, Cisco and Sony.

"It's a really stressed-out manufacturing environment, but it's not unique to Apple," Palma said.

It's common practice to work long hours in China, and workers will continue to flock to the factories as the wages are relatively high, Palma said. "If you're an 18-year-old on a farm in China, it's a good thing for you to work in these places," Palma said.

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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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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