Occupation Records, the record label set up to support and fund the global Occupy movement has made the difficult decision to not use iTunes or Amazon for distribution. Occupation Records recently announced its first album – Folk the Banks – slated for mid-March featuring artists including Ani DiFranco, Tom Morello, Sam Duckworth and Billy Bragg, but will not be using the popular sites to drive sales.
The decision to not use Apple’s iTunes and Amazon distribution services is not just because of the lack of competition and control these dominant global market players hold, but primarily because of labour and human rights violations. The label is also challenging the music industry as part of an ethics campaign – coming together to help find and create more ethical and transparent ways of doing business, that values people – employees, artists and consumers – more than profit.
Adam Jung, Artist and Industry Relations for Occupation Records, commented: “Just as the music industry has the potential to help spread the message of Occupy, the Occupy movement has some messages to bring to the music industry. Occupy is about opening up a space for dialogue about inequalities and working towards real alternatives benefiting for all – it’s already having affects here in the UK with politicians fighting over themselves to say what we’ve been saying – and we aren’t finished by a long shot, whether evicted from St Paul’s or not.”
“With Occupation Records entering the music industry, that guiding ethos made us question whether our initiative should be ‘business as usual’ or the ‘medium is the message’. For us, the choice was clear.”
Occupy the music industry
The news comes in a new blog, published on the Occupation Records website, detailing the labour and human rights violations associated with Apple and Amazon.  This first blog will be be the beginning of a series of blogs that chart the birth of the record label that aims to take the ethos of Occupy to the heart of the music industry and which will continually ask what would an Occupy response be.
As well as the blog, Occupation Records has indicated that its ethics campaign will, in the tradition of Occupy, employ a diverse range of tactics – from teach outs, events and debates to online activity and creative direct actions – all aiming to create a conversation and a dialogue for the industry to engage with.
Occupation Records is currently in the middle of finalising its first release, Folk the Banks, a folk benefit album with music from Ani DiFranco, Tom Morello, Sam Duckworth Billy Bragg, Chumbawumba and Anais Mitchell, and cover artwork by Jamie Reid, the artist behind the Sex Pistols’ artwork including God Save the Queen.  Occupation Records is also in the process of crowd-funding a new record label that plans to help musicians and artists around the world to get involved, build, support and fund the Occupy movement, with all profits going to Occupy London, occupations across the UK and Ireland, and the global movement. 
As Billboard magazine pointed out in a post last April, iTunes is a good reason to become and stay an Apple customer and adds value to its most expensive hardware.  The music industry plays a large role in polishing Apple’s image and can and should play a big role in pressuring Apple to address its labour and human rights violations.
Labour and human rights abuse abounds in Apple’s supply chain, with workers even threatening mass suicide.    Its own 2012 Progress Report of Supplier Responsibility stated that at over 90 of their facilities assembling Apple products, over half of workers “exceeded weekly working hour limits of 60” with 108 facilities not paying proper overtime. 
The largest supplier of Apple, Foxconn, highlights some of the abuses, employing 230,000 workers in on-site dorms so they are available 24 hours a day, with over 10% of employees (24,000) estimated to quit each month. Last month saw over 150 workers at a Foxconn factory in Wuhan, China, climb to the roof of their factory and threatened mass suicide over working conditions and wages. This is a year and a half after Foxconn started hanging nets around the factory in an attempt to stop the increasing number of suicides. When that didn’t work, they made employees sign pledges not to kill themselves.
Apple claims that when a supplier violates its code of conduct they are forced to comply or the contract is terminated. But the continued suicides have been happening for the last three years and Foxconn remains as the largest supplier of Apple. The Progress Report details hundreds of violations just in the last year, but according to the New York Times, only 15 suppliers have been terminated since 2007, non-compliance is reportedly tolerated and the bar for compliance low. 
Amazon’s Kindle is manufactured by Foxconn and they’re directly guilty of ignoring or outright opposing labour rights in the UK and US.
The Amazon.com warehouse in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania is the very definition of a sweatshop with employees forced to work 11 hour shifts in temperatures up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) with one unpaid hour long lunch break, and two breaks of 15 minutes.   Workers reported people passing out at the water fountain, workers being carried out on stretchers and wheelchairs – by paramedics Amazon hired to park outside. In one day 15 employees collapsed. Conditions are so bad the local hospital called federal regulators to alert them of the number of patients coming from the warehouse.
In the UK, complaints from employees at their Marston Gate warehouse include mandatory overtime, forcing employees to work seven days a week, punishing employees for sick days even with a doctor’s note and receiving only two breaks of 15 and 20 minutes for an eight hour shift.  Complaints over the working conditions at Amazon have been coming for a decade. In 2001, Amazon in the UK hired US firm The Burke Group to assist in a union busting campaign against organisation by the Graphical, Paper, and Media Union (now Unite the Union.) The same year Amazon laid off 850 workers at their Seattle warehouse following a unionisation drive there. Working conditions have not improved in ten years. 
At the same time, there is also the issue of the stranglehold that these two companies have on the music industry, controlling close to 80%+ of the digital download market. Apple, through iTunes claims around 70% +, with Amazon accounting for another 10%.
The power of the music industry to affect change
“Rather than side stepping this ethical dilemma, to remain true to Occupy, we feel it is important to make tough decisions as well as address and challenge the stark realities of the music industry,” added Adam.
“For our part, Occupation Records will not distribute through Apple’s iTunes or Amazon until these companies begin to value people over profit, and we call on the music industry to join us. Let’s occupy the music industry.
“The music industry has previous helped to ensure that merchandise is ethically manufactured and sourced, and can also claim a victory when they forced Apple to offer DRM free content. There is no reason they couldn’t force both Apple and Amazon’s hands on human and labour rights.”
 Blog – iOccupy: Occupation Records Challenges the Music Industry by Adam Jung, Artist and Industry Relations for Occupation Records
 Occupation Records: The 99 per cent to launch a record label
 Crowd funding initiative for Occupation Records http://www.sponsume.com/
 iTunes Generates $1.4 Billion Last Quarter; Three Reasons Why Its Value Is Far Greater, Billboard, 21/4/11
 iSlave http://www.newint.org/
 ‘Mass Suicide’ Protest At Apple Manufacturer Foxconn, The Telegraph, 11/1/12
 You Are NOT Allowed To Commit Suicide:Workers In Chinese Apple Factory Forced To Sign Pledges, The Daily Mail, 5/1/11
 Apple Supplier Responsibility 2012 Progress Report
 In China, Human Costs Are Built Into iPad, New York Times, 25/1/12
 Inside Amazon’s Warehouse, The Morning Call, 18/9/11
 Divide and Rule, The Guardian, 26/2/08
 Price War!Amazon Launches 69 cent MP3 Store for top-selling tunes. Los Angeles Times, 28/4/11