Worker Abuse Protest Targets Apple, Supplier Foxconn

Protesters gathered Thursday at a half dozen Apple stores to deliver petitions decrying reported labor abuses at the company's largest supplier, Chinese manufacturer Foxconn.

On the same day as the protests, a hactivist group called Swagg Security claimed to have dumped onto the Internet files containing megabytes of data stolen from Foxconn, including user IDs and passwords. "The passwords inside these files could allow individuals to make fraudulent orders under big companies like Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Intel, and Dell," the group claimed. The actual contents of the files had not been verified.

The protests stem from an investigative report in The New York Times that chronicled abusive working conditions at Foxconn, which makes Apple's iPhone, iPad and other devices. While the company also makes products for Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lenovo, Sony and other electronics companies, the story leaned toward describing working conditions related to Apple products.

Protesters gathered at Apple stores in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York, Bangalore, London and Sydney to deliver stacks of petitions with signatures gathered through the advocacy Web sites and, Charlotte Hill, spokeswoman for San Francisco-based, said. A quarter million signatures were gathered on the sites.

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Fewer than two dozen protesters showed up at each of the stores. The purpose was to deliver the signatures to Apple representatives, not to hold a large demonstration. The petitions call on the company "to produce a transparent plan for how they are going to manufacture the iPhone 5 (the next version of the smartphone) ethically," Hill said.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

Apple has defended its efforts to improve working conditions at its suppliers' factories. In an e-mail to employees last month, Chief Executive Tim Cook said the company has never ignored the plight of workers. "What we will not do - and never have done - is stand still or turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain," he said in the e-mail, according to Reuters. "On this you have my word."