Lost iPhone Prototype Pushes Foxconn Worker to Commit Suicide

This is one sad story to report on. Sun Danyong, 25-year-old employee at Chinese manufacturing company Foxconn, has committed suicide after being subjected to apparently rather rigorous interrogation methods by Foxconn’s Central Security Division. Danyong handled a shipment of 16 iPhone prototypes, and one of them went missing. Update: Apple responds: “We are saddened by the tragic loss of this young employee, and we are awaiting results of the investigations into his death. We require our suppliers to treat all workers with dignity and respect.”

First and foremost, I would like to offer my sympathies to Sun Danyong’s family and friends. They are the ones who lost a relative and/or a friend.

Foxconn is the world’s largest manufacturer of electronics and computer components, and produces hardware for just about every electronics company out there. The PlayStation 2 and 3, XBox 360, the Wii, Amazon’s Kindle, Motorola cell phones, and a gazillion other parts and devices all come out of Foxconn’s factories in mainland China. Foxconn is also a major Apple partner, and the company produces a lot of hardware for the Cupertino giant, among which iPods and the iPhone.

And here is where it went wrong. As we all know, Apple is a little paranoid when it comes to secrecy. So, when Danyong handled a shipment of 16 iPhone prototypes and one went missing, Foxconn’s Central Security Division went overboard and applied rather rigorous interrogation techniques on him. He told friends he had been subjected to intense questioning, including “laying hands” on him – he did not detail how. On July 16, he jumped off a building and died.

This is not the first time Foxconn’s handling of its employees has come under scrutiny. In 2006, the company admitted to breaking Chinese labour laws. A team from Apple had been sent to Foxconn earlier to investigate the matter – and they found nothing. This time around, Foxconn admits that something is severely wrong here, and they are investigating the matter. The chief of the division in question has been suspended without pay.

“Regardless of the reason of Sun’s suicide, it is to some extent a reflection of Foxconn’s internal management deficiencies, especially in how to help young workers cope with the psychological pressures of working life at the company,” a spokesperson for the company said.

The internet is of course quick to blame either Foxconn or Apple, but I say both of them are to blame here. Obviously, Foxconn is to blame for bringing China’s treatment of dissidents to the workplace, that much is clear. However, Apple’s obsession with secrecy is what pushed them to do so: I’m sure Foxconn was afraid they’d lose contracts with Apple now or in the future because of slip-ups like this. On top of that, Apple is to blame for still dealing with this company even after 2006′ events.

This is what happens when financial gain and profit are valued more than humans. Sure, you can adopt an holier-than-thou attitude and shun products from Foxconn, but the fact of the mater is that Foxconn is just one of many. In our search for ever cheaper products, for an ever cheaper labour force, we are apparently willing to accept the fact that our products are built in conditions like we see at Foxconn.

I actually own three motherboards by Foxconn – my media centre’s, my main workstation’s, and my PowerMac G4’s motherboards are all made by them. They’re all working fine, and I’m quite happy with them. Hypocrisy?



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