Apple bans apps from the App Store all the time, for a variety of reasons. Most of the time, it’s because they think the app is pornographic, even if it totally isn’t, although occasionally, it’s because developers have hidden some functionality in an app that violates Apple’s EULA.
One thing we’re not used to seeing Apple ban apps for, though, is the mere fact that the app’s subject matter has made Cupertino uncomfortable… but that is seemingly what happened with Sweatshop HD, a game created by a BAFTA-winning studio that aims to raise awareness about where our products come from.
Sweatshop HD was made by creative studio Littleloud, and it’s a tower-defense style game in which you aren’t tasked with repelling an invading force, but running a clothing sweatshop, complete with underpaid or underaged workers.
Geek.com describes the gameplay this way:
Over its 30 levels the player has to deal with ever larger orders, more types of products to make, but also problems like fires, no toilets, unions, and employees getting tired or ill. It’s realistic because the choice of what to do–look after the workers or complete the orders–falls to the player, and hopefully teaches them the difficulties in balancing the two in the process.
Here’s some video of the gameplay:
According to the developers, though, Apple ended up pulling the game recently because they were uncomfortable with the subject matter.
Littleloud told Pocket Gamer that “Apple removed Sweatshop from the App Store last month stating that it was uncomfortable selling a game based around the theme of running a sweatshop.”
“Apple specifically cited references in the game to clothing factory managers ‘blocking fire escapes’, ‘increasing work hours for labour’, and issues around the child labour as reasons why the game was unsuitable for sale.”
“Littleloud amended the app to clarify that Sweatshop is a work of fiction and was created with the fact-checking input of charity Labor Behind the Label, and to emphasise that the game doesn’t force players to play the game in one way or another. Rather, Sweatshop is a sympathetic examination of the pressures that all participants in the sweatshop system endure.”
“Sadly, these clarifications and changes weren’t enough to see the game reinstated for sale.”
The particular clause in the Developer’s Agreement that Apple is citing here is clause 16.1, which says that “Apps that present excessively objectionable or crude content will be rejected.”
That’s an aggressively vague clause, of course, and the wording is designed to give Apple a lot of leeway in banning apps.
In this case, it’s easy to see why Apple might find a game about running a sweatshop as being “objectionable.” Apple’s supply chain has consistently been labeled as a series of sweatshops, and even the CEO of Apple’s biggest manufacturing partner Foxconn has said “there’s nothing wrong with sweatshops.” This is a sore spot for Apple.
The problem as I see it is that an app developer can’t determine whether or not an app will be considered “objectionable.” Something isn’t objectionable because of intent, but because of perception. In Sweatshop HD’s case, what is in fact a tasteful commentary aiming to raise awareness of modern-day manufacturing commissions through bright, addictive gameplay mechanics — in other words, an artistic statement — is being banned because Apple seemingly doesn’t want that awareness being raised.
This position is frankly at odds with Apple’s recent work to improve working conditions at its factories overseas, and their committment to transparency in reporting violations they find in their supply chain. It makes Apple look like it wants to hide the truth about the way iPhones are made, when the opposite is true.
Apple should reverse this decision, if only because of how at odds it is with the company’s committment to raising conditions in and being transparent about their supply chain.
Until they do, though, you won’t find Sweatshop HD on the App Store. You can play the free online Flash version here.