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Activists petition Apple for ethical iPhone 5

Foxconn protest in Hong Kong
A protester from SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior) demonstrates outside the Foxconn annual general meeting in Hong Kong, May 18, 2011. MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images

(CBS) - Apple is facing a new online petition that demands chief executive officer Tim Cook release the first ethical iPhone.

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Activist group SumOfUs is asking Apple to step up and pressure manufacturers to improve work conditions.

"Right now we have a huge opportunity as ethical consumers: The launch of the iPhone 5 later this year will be new Apple CEO Tim Cook's first big product rollout, and he can't afford for anything to go wrong -- including negative publicity around how Apple's suppliers treat their workers. That's why we're launching a campaign this week to get Apple to overhaul the way its suppliers treat their workers in time for the launch of the iPhone 5."

The petition comes on the heels of an expose by the New York Times, which painted a dark picture of suffering factory workers in China. Days after the Times article was published, Cook sent an email to employees stating the company cares about all workers.

"We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain," Cook said in the email. "Any accident is deeply troubling, and any issue with working conditions is cause for concern. Any suggestion that we don't care is patently false and offensive to us."

The opposition points out that if Apple put enough pressure on the manufacturers, factories would have no choice but to improve work conditions. A former Apple executive told the Times anonymously, "Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn't have another choice."

Conditions at Foxconn, the controversial company that manufactures over 50 percent of the world's electronic devices, were so bad that a spike of suicides plagued the company in 2011. The suicides were so common, the company placed nets around buildings to prevent people from jumping.

According to CNET, the petition collected over 35,000 signatures in its first 24 hours.

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