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Apple iPhone factory workers' petition begs for reform


(CBS) - Apple's public relations problem isn't going away anytime soon. A petition posted by a pair of factory workers who claim to be poisoned by a chemical used to clean iPhones is gaining momentum.

The poison they're talking about is from a chemical called n-hexane, which is used to clean iPhone screens. And the factory in question this time is another Apple manufacturer - Wintek. 

The two workers, Gou Rui-qiang and Jia Jing-chuan, hope to get the attention of Apple investors ahead of a shareholders' meeting today. In the most recent count, the petition posted on SumOfUs has gained nearly 84,000 signatures.

You don't know us but you have seen our work. Until recently, we worked long hours assembling Apple's iPhone touch screens in Suzhou, China.

In early 2010, it was independently confirmed that 137 workers, including us, were poisoned by a chemical called n-hexane which was used to clean iPhone screens. N-hexane is known to cause eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation, and leads to persistant nerve damage. Apple admitted to gross labour rights violations more than a year later.

If more people know about what we went through, Apple will feel pressured to change so other workers don't have to suffer like we did.

We have been pressuring Apple, and its new CEO Tim Cook, for years to compensate those of us who were injured working for them, and demanding reform of working conditions at their Chinese factories so that their workers don't suffer like we do. Now we need your help as customers or potential customers of Apple.

We need your help to send a message to Apple the day before their shareholder meeting. We want to see a strict corporate social responsibility and reform of the audit system to prevent similar tragedies in the future. He will listen to you as current or potential consumers.

Nearly 84,000 people have signed the petition so far -- for that, we thank you! We believe it'd be symbolically powerful if 100,000 people signed the petition before SumOfUs delivers it to Tim Cook on Thursday at their shareholder meeting. We're really close to that goal, but we need you to share our request with your friends to get over the edge.

It has been over two years since many of us were hospitalized and treated but our debilitating symptoms continue. Rui-Qiang still can't find work because he can no longer stand for the long hours most jobs require. Jing-Chuan has to spend nearly $100 a month on health supplements.

But with all of us working together to pressure Apple to change, we can make sure what happened to us doesn't happen to others too.

The open letter comes on the heels of an ABC Nightline visit to the Foxconn facility that manufactures Apple products. The unprecedented glimpse inside of Foxconn revealed a complex situation. While the working conditions at the factory aren't good, working at Foxconn is still a better option than the poverty of China's rural communities.

Apple isn't the only company that uses Foxconn. Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, Samsung and Hewlett-Packard are some of the biggest companies in the worlds - they also manufacture products at Foxconn.

In that visit to Foxconn, Nighline's anchor Bill Weir asked a young woman who works on iPhones, "For all the people in America who buy one of these, what do you want them to know about you?"

"I want them to know me," the young woman said. "I want them to know we put a lot of effort in this product so when they use this please use it with care."