Foxconn, the maker of the Apple iPhone [I said maker as they are the ones that put everything together] is in some serious trouble. After the receipt of 16 prototype fourth generation iPhones an Engineer at Foxconn found himself the victim of extremely harsh investigative methods when one of the 16 went missing. Unfortunately the investigative techniques allegedly used were enough to bring the 25 year old to suicide.
Although there are many rumors about the incident floating around the only real facts we have are a basic timeline.
On July 9th Yong Sun Dan received 16 prototype fourth generation iPhones from the assembly line. These were inventoried and prepared for shipment to Apple. The sealed container received by Apple only contained 15 iPhones. From there Yong Sun Dan was the immediate source of suspicion because he was the person responsible for the receipt, inventory, and mailing of the new prototype phones.
The Central Security Office at Foxconn began an investigation into the incident under pressure from Apple to ensure there was no leak of Apple’s trade secrets.
On July 16th at 3:33 am Yong Sun Dan jumped from a 12th floor window and fell to his death.
It is the in-between days that are now the biggest source of conjecture and speculation in this event. There is talk of illegal searches of Yong’s apartment, illegal confinement, physical interrogation methods and other items that raise serious concern.
If any of them are true it shows a “police state” mentality on the part of Foxconn’s security department. But what is more it shows the levels that Foxconn will go to to keep Apple’s business and also shows the type of pressure that Apple can put on a company.
Apple is an extremely secretive company; they are also a very aggressive company. According to reports Apple maintains a level of secrecy even inside its own departments that would rival many governmental agencies. They issue false information and leads to employees to find leaks, they compartmentalize information, and they aggressively peruse any suspected leaks with legal action.
It would not be out of the realm of possibility to suppose that Apple could have put immense pressure on Foxconn to find the missing phone and the person responsible for its loss. After all the OEM production market in China is vicious. To call it cut throat is to describe an atomic blast as a loud bang.
If Apple is not kept happy they could easily move their manufacturing to a competitor. This would be a terrible blow to Foxconn.
The problem now facing both Apple and Foxconn is the public’s reaction to this. So far there has been limited press on this outside China, but the momentum is building. Eventually Apple will have to comment and reveal its path in this. Foxconn has made the director for Central Security the scapegoat for the time being by announcing they have put him on temporary leave; some say with pay for now. This is while they investigate the accusations and the incident as a whole. Foxconn has also issued an apology to Yong’s loved ones and says the incident was sad and deeply distressing.
This is not the first time that Foxconn has faced this type of scrutiny; they have been accused of abusive employment practices before. In fact in 2006 much of this came to light due to an article that was released by Wang You and Weng Bao. The article raised such suspicion that Apple sent a team to investigate the issue.
The investigative team was something of a joke as they claimed that while they did see evidence of overwork [working more than 60 hours per week], incidents of harsh punishment [being made to stand at attention for long periods], and said that items such as employee health and safety were beyond their expertise, they said they did not see anything for concern
In the end while Foxconn admitted they did require up to 80 hours of overtime they decided to go ahead and sue the reporters that broke the story for $3.77 million and even got the court’s permission to freeze the two reporter’s assets. A letter to Steve Jobs by Reporters without Borders was apparently able to get Apple to convince Foxconn to change their mind. They ended up seeking a 1 yaun judgment and dropped the request to freeze the two journalists’ personal assets. They are now suing the company they both work for China Business News.
The ball is now in Apple and Foxconn’s court. They are the ones that have to be held accountable for this tragic death. Foxconn for the ultimate death and for the treatment that would push someone to this and Apple for continuing to use Foxconn when they would seem to know there is a concern. Apple also has a secondary item to answer for, is ANY new product worth the loss of a human life?