In a showdown pitting employment activists against early adopters, protesters
in cities across the country plan to picket Apple stores today, coinciding
with the release of the new iPad.
The demonstrations stem from a petition launched last month at change.org that has seen consumers calling on Apple to implement policies to prevent workplace abuses at facilities that produce the corporation's products.
The protesters opted for today to demonstrate and call attention to concerns about workers' conditions because of the global excitement surrounding the release of the new iPad.
Apple store employees at the Germantown store declined to comment about the product's release, but did acknowledge that the retail shop at 7615 West Farmington in the Saddle Creek shopping center will open at 8 a.m. today, two hours earlier than normal.
Apple's corporate media department did not respond to telephone and e-mail requests for interviews.
If recent tradition holds, storefront crowds will gather as Apple's latest iPad goes on sale today and long lines are likely, even though customers could have ordered the new tablet computer ahead of time for first-day home delivery.
But for many customers, visiting a store in person -- instead of having one shipped -- offers a chance to mingle with die-hard Apple fans.
And that should provide demonstrators with a highly visible platform to voice their concerns.
The Apple protest is spearheaded by Mark Shields, who collected 250,000 signatures on a petition condemning the dismal working conditions at Foxconn, a Taiwanese subcontractor that operates factories in China where many Apple products are produced.
Following the petition drive, Shields said that Apple announced a transparency policy for its production facilities and Foxconn workers received wage increases.
Stephen Fox, a web designer who lives outside Nashville and signed the petition, on Thursday criticized what he characterized as corporate greed.
"Profit is not the top concern, it's become the only concern and it's contributing to an increasingly soulless world," Fox said. "Visually, Foxconn appears to be a nice modern place, but the philosophy behind it is tyrannical."
And Shields argued that more must be done.
"It's great to see Apple taking important steps like the factory audit this month and pay raises for the factory workers, but Apple hasn't crossed the finish line yet," Shields said in a statement.
"New product releases, like the iPad 3 this week, have typically been the most dangerous for workers because of the incredible pressure they are under to meet release production deadlines. That's why 250,000 consumers have signed their names to the petition asking Apple to release a strategy for protecting their workers during new product launches. We want them to use their trademark creativity to help make life better for their factory workers."
Two years after the debut of the first iPad, the device's launch has become the second-biggest "gadget event" of the year, after the annual iPhone release. A year ago, thousands lined up outside the flagship Apple store on New York's Fifth Avenue. The device sold out on launch day, even though it didn't go on sale until 5 p.m.
In the U.S., the new iPad starts at $499, the same as the previous model, the iPad 2, when it debuted a year ago. Apple has sold more than 55 million iPads since its debut in 2010, including some 40 million last year.
Apart from the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the device goes on sale today in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Next week, another 25 countries will get the device, altogether making for an unusually fast product roll-out for Apple.
And the protests will likely continue.
Among those adding their names to the online petition were a number of Tennesseans, including self-identified Memphian Peg Dube, who wrote, "We all need to wake up to how and with what these products are made," and Shan Lim, who added, "That's horrible, horrible! I do not have [an] iPhone and do not plan to buy one anytime soon if this condition persists. Please do something Apple!"
For more information on the Apple petition, visit change.org/petitions/apple-ceo-tim-cook-protect-workers-making-iphones-in-chin ese-factories
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