Apple is wrestling with a public-relations crisis caused by the loss of a next-generation iPhone prototype and the death of a 25-year-old employee of Foxconn, Chinese manufacturer of Apple iPhones and iPods. In 2006, Apple audited Foxconn's working conditions after a British newspaper suggested that the factory violated labor practices, and found that the manufacturer asked excessive hours of its workers.
previously investigated Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturer of its iPhones and
iPods, three years before the July 16 death of a 25-year-old Foxconn employee raised
questions about Foxconn management.
Sun Danyong, an engineer with Foxconn, had been put in charge of shipping 16
prototypes of the fourth-generation iPhone to Apple in the United
States. However, one of the phones went
missing, leading Foxconn's security personnel to search Sun's apartment.
According to the Chinese newspaper Nanfang Daily, Sun sent a text message to
a friend's phone claiming he had been interrogated and beaten by Foxconn
security. At some point after sending that text, Sun fell to his death from the
12th floor of his apartment building in Shenzhen. Local authorities initially
reported it a suicide.
A reporter with Nanfang Daily supposedly viewed surveillance footage of Sun's
interrogation and saw no physical abuse. The newspaper also quoted the
interrogator, security manager Gu Qinming, as saying he never physically harmed
However, a report by Bloomberg said Hon Hai Group, Foxconn's parent company,
had suspended a security official by the name of Gu, and alerted Chinese
authorities to the matter. There has been no comment on whether the lost iPhone
prototype was recovered.
The death prompted a great deal of international media attention, leading
Foxconn to issue a statement that read, in part, "The company has noticed
there has been much detailed discussion on the Internet and welcomes public
discussion on how to help Foxconn's management where it is lacking."
The statement added, "We will scrutinize those places, and strengthen
our assistance to young employees."
"We are saddened by the tragic loss of this employee," Apple said
in a statement. "We require that our suppliers treat all workers with
dignity and respect."
This is not the first time that Foxconn, which employs over 270,000 workers,
has caused Apple a public-relations crisis.
In 2006, a report in a British newspaper about poor working conditions at
Foxconn led Apple to dispatch an audit team to China,
composed of personnel from its Human Resources, Legal and Operations divisions.
The team interviewed 100 "randomly selected employees" at the factory
in addition to inspecting the facilities and documents, including personnel
files and payroll data.
The factory passed inspection in many respects, according to the report issued by Apple's
audit team. However, the team also found that "employees worked longer
hours than permitted by our Code of Conduct, which limits normal workweeks to
60 hours and requires at least one day off each week."
"Although our Code of Conduct allows overtime limit exceptions in
unusual circumstances," the report added, "we believe in the
importance of a healthy work-life balance and found these percentages to be
But Janek Kuczkiewicz, director of human and trade union rights at the ICFTU
(International Confederation of Free Trade Unions) was "not impressed
either by the report or by the findings of Apple," he told the BBC at the
"Apple interviewed just 100 people out of the estimated 30,000 iPod
workers," Kuczkiewicz said. "We do not know the conditions in which
the interviews were held. We have serious reservations about the report."
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.