iPhone suicide case spotlights tech's dark side

The computer or smartphone you're using now, do you know who made it? Where it was made? Never mind the logo or brand on the case. It won't tell you much.

The computer or smartphone you're using now, do you know who made it? Where it was made? Never mind the logo or brand on the case. It won't tell you much.

These questions once again bubble to the surface in wake of the death of Sun Danyong, an employee of Foxconn, who it is being widely reported committed suicide after losing an iPhone prototype. The IDG News service reports:

"This week's case of Foxconn, the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer, has asked Chinese police to investigate a case in which an employee reportedly committed suicide after being pressured over the loss of an iPhone prototype."

The report indicates the Chinese employee was "roughed up" by a Foxconn security official, and that the incident reveals "management shortcomings" at the company.

The incident shines a spotlight on the tech industry's dark side: How its products are made. In the developed world, we see the enlightened, progressive image the industry presents of itself-green, clean, caring, and intent on making the world a better place.

But many consumers aren't aware that consumer electronics "manufacturers" usually don't manufacture the products they sell. There are no iPod factories in Cupertino. Tech products may be designed in the Developed World, but manufacturing is outsourced to places a lot less pleasant.

A quote from a Macworld article I wrote a few months ago on Apple's environmental policies:

"In the case of notebooks, for example, Apple-like Dell, HP, and virtually every other computer vendor, confusingly dubbed Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs)-designs its systems but then outsources the assembly to contract manufacturers, also known as original design manufacturers (ODMs). While most of these ODMs have headquarters in Taiwan, their factories are usually in mainland China, where labor costs are lower and environmental standards are lax."

When I interviewed Casey Harrell, an electronics and e-waste expert for Greenpeace, for the Macworld article, here was his take on tech manufacturing in Asia:

"Our assessment is that there are pretty atrocious labor practices. It's an important issue that should be assessed."

Harrell went on to say that while Taiwan wasn't exactly a "hotbed of progressive behavior," ODMs didn't build tech products there because there are "too many laws in Taiwan that give people rights."

"They make then in mainland China instead," he said.

Harrell wasn't criticizing Apple or its suppliers directly, but rather referring to the tech industry as a whole.

Foxconn's labor practices have been criticized in the past. Also from today's IDG News story:

"Allegations of trouble with Foxconn workers in China have bitten Apple before. The U.S. company and its relationship with Foxconn was brought to light three years ago when a British newspaper wrote about allegedly poor pay and long hours for iPod assembly line workers. Apple conducted its own review of the facility but found few violations of its supplier code of conduct."

After the latest Foxconn incident, Apple released a statement that it was "saddened by the loss of this young employee," and that it requires its suppliers to "treat all workers with dignity and respect." The company monitors its suppliers, which must follow a fairly extensive code of conduct.

I have no reason to doubt Apple's sincerity here. I do believe that management in Cupertino cares about the people who make iPods, iPhones, and MacBooks. Still, there appears to be disconnect between the designers at 1 Infinite Loop and at least one company that build its products.

To be fair, the latest incident may have been the act of a rogue employee, rather than a business-as-usual tactic by Foxconn management. But given the company's history of poor labor relations, one must wonder.

It's time for Apple-and the tech industry as a whole-to better monitor its contract manufacturers.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags smartphonesAppleiPhone

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeff Bertolucci

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Brand Post

Win pair of MOMENTUM True Wireless

Three PC World readers will be in the running to take home a pair of MOMENTUM True Wireless which are meticulously crafted with every fine listening detail considered. *T&C's Apply

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?