Officials with Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Nokia say they are looking into the operations of the Taiwan-based manufacturer Foxconn after a series of suicides at one of the company's sites in China.
In statements issued May 26, Apple, Dell, Nokia and Hewlett-Packard, which all have products manufactured by Foxconn, said they are concerned about the situation, that they are working to ensure that conditions at the plants are healthy and that they're in contact with Foxconn executives.
Meanwhile, in hopes of staving off accusations that they are running a sweatshop, Foxconn officials May 26 offered journalists a tour of its facilities in the Shenzhen providence of China, following the May 21 death of a worker who fell from his apartment window on the Foxconn campus.
The death was the eight or ninth - reports have varied - to have occurred on the campus as a result of what appears to be suicides, reportedly prompted by intense working conditions. Two workers have survived their falls.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Terry Gou, Foxconn's founder and president, told journalists on the tour that he's become afraid to answer the phone late at night or early in the morning, following the succession of deaths. In addition to expressing determination at being able to address the problem, journalists were told that Foxconn plans to "outfit worker dormitories with safety nets to prevent more workers from jumping to their deaths."
Officials with vendors that do business with Foxconn said they are looking into the situation and are talking with officials at the manufacturer. Apple, for example, relies on Foxconn to assemble its iPads, iPhones and MacBooks.
"We are saddened and upset by the recent suicides at Foxconn. Apple is deeply committed to ensuring that conditions throughout our supply chain are safe and workers are treated with respect and dignity," Apple said in a statement. "We are in direct contact with Foxconn senior management and we believe they are taking this matter very seriously."
Nokia, in its statement, said it had also contacted Foxconn "to ensure any issues are identified and addressed." Dell similarly announced that any "reports of poor working conditions in Dell's supply chain are investigated and, if warranted, appropriate action is taken."
For its part, HP also said it wanted to determine whether conditions at the Foxconn facility contributed to the suicides.
Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., which is the anchor company of Foxconn, has more than 800,000 workers, approximately 450,000 of whom are based at the Shenzhen campus where the deaths occurred. According to the Journal, workers are paid a base salary of the legal minimum wage - about $132 a month - but many employees work overtime for the additional pay.
The China Labor Watch group, Reuters has reported, found that the average Foxconn worker puts in a 12-hour day and often go weeks without taking a day off.
The working conditions and practices at Foxconn have been criticized for years - in 2006, for example, a British newspaper reported on poor working conditions at Foxconn, causing Apple to send out an audit team.
According to a timeline of milestones on the Foxconn Website, however, in 2006 it was named one of the "Best Employers in China" by a ChinaHR.com poll, while another poll named it "Best Company to Make [an] Employee Feel Blessed."
Were any of the tech vendors to pull out of their relationships with Foxconn, the scenario would certainly be damaging for the company, as well as a hassle and expense for the vendor. While expressing desires to pinpoint and address any issue, no vendor has yet threatened to sever the relationship, should the situation continue.