Rash of Suicides in Chinese iPad Factory Prompts Pointless Apple Investigation

by Matt Klassen on May 27, 2010

It’s easy to be impressed by the technological innovation produced by most major tech companies, lured by the promise of lightning fast Internet, more convenient &  fully integrated mobile devices, and unprecedented connectivity with the world around you. But have you ever stopped to think about the people that actually bring you these devices?

I’m not talking about the likes of Steve Jobs or Eric Schmidt, the powerful barons of industry who are undoubtedly reclining on their mountains of money high above us in their ivory towers, but about the actual people; the assembly line workers that produce the devices that have become such an integral part of our lives. My guess would be no, you probably haven’t given those people much thought at all, most likely because they are building these devices in other countries where companies like Apple, Google, HP, and Dell don’t have to pay them as much money.

But with news out of China that the Hon Hai Industries (also known as Foxconn Technology Group) factory in Shenzhen, China, a major supplier for several of the aforementioned tech companies and a major manufacturer of Apple’s iPad and iPod, has seen an unprecedented number of employee suicides in the past few weeks, the public is slowly realizing that perhaps there are victims to such technological innovation, and with that, in an effort to save face, Apple and HP have decided to take a closer look into business practices in China…just so we can all sleep a little better at night.

To their credit, Apple, HP, and Dell have all publicly stated that they are looking into the matter, with Apple releasing a statement affirming the tech giant’s commitment to, “ensuring that conditions throughout our supply chain are safe and workers are treated with respect and dignity.” While Apple goes on to say that they are in direct contact with the senior management of the China-based plant, do they really think that’s going to help.

Not that I’m saying that the average Chinese working conditions are necessarily deplorable, but they must be pretty bad if workers would rather kill themselves then face another day on the factory floor. Further, the fact that companies like Foxconn lock up their tech factories, with their employees inside, tighter than Fort Knox is probably not just an indication of Steve Jobs’ desire for secrecy, but evidence that perhaps the Chinese companies have something to hide.

That being said, I’m already skeptical about the possible findings of any of the inquiries undertaken by officials at Apple, HP, or Dell. Clearly any investigation into this recent rash of suicides is only for show for the media here in the West, as I’m sure a strict policy of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell is in effect. Apple knows that it won’t find the same availability of cheap labor to build its iPods and iPads anywhere else in the world, so it certainly doesn’t want to screw this partnership up.

I mean, if these American companies consider exorbitantly long work weeks, draconian levels of control and restrictions for employees, and the fact that most rank-and-file employees at these Chinese factories seem to live at their jobs, to be par for the course when it comes to satisfactory working conditions, I would guess that Apple and HP would have to witness some employee being whipped and crucified before they would begin to raise concerns.

For shame.

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Jordan Richardson May 27, 2010 at 6:17 am

I’m glad that somebody is shining a light on this sort of thing.

It’s interesting to see the Chinese shuffle the blame in this case on to Taiwan, even though these issues are incredible common in their rush to push “free market” capitalism on their population as quickly and as painfully as possible. The Chinese rush to accept any and all investments and growth opportunities is being done with eyes on the prize and nothing else, so perhaps the most surprising thing about this is that the news actually got out for a change.

The Western lust for cheap Chinese products is not surprising, especially with our “discount” culture of Wal-Marts and so on. As long as our thirst for these products is there, these sorts of situations are bound to happen as producers push their workers to the brink and beyond.

There’s also the Honda strikes to be considered as further evidence of the problem. Workers in China’s manufacturing sector are getting fed up, some to the point of suicide no less. Slightly reminds of me of the ongoing mass suicides among Indian farmers over the past pair of decades due to the rush of capitalism in that country and how it impacts their trade.

In a related story, France Telecom boasts 46 employee suicides since 2008. 11 since the start of this year alone. The cause is supposed to be workplace stress.

Anyway, here’s an interesting article on the subject from China’s Southern Weekly newspaper. Disturbing, fascinating stuff:


Kudos again for covering this, Matt.

Matt Klassen May 27, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Wow, that story from the Chinese paper is powerful stuff. It truly drives home the point that people suffer to bring us the goods we want at the prices we’re willing to pay…meaning that there is plenty of blame to go around on this matter.

I have heard that the more focused a person’s job is (i.e. attaching the same microchip into the same iPad for eight hours a day, seven days a week) leads to the most job dissatisfaction, and thus the highest suicide rates, but the insider description of the Foxconn factory makes it truly seem like hell on earth…at least they have a destressing room :p.

Thanks for the link Jordan.

Jordan Richardson May 27, 2010 at 2:45 pm

People need to be aware of the fact that the very people that have worked their asses off in 12 hour days to make their iShit can, in no way, afford the very products they’re constructing. Best case scenario: they can afford the knockoffs.

Jordan Richardson May 27, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Good grief, this is getting sickening. Xinhua news reports another suicide last night with reporting of an attempt on this (Thursday) morning coming over the wires now:


As the article’s author writes in broken English: “Are we getting some sort of suicide count-down for the new iPhone announcement next month?”

Matt Klassen May 27, 2010 at 4:12 pm

I have written a followup for tomorrow on this story. The most disgusting thing of all, the chairman of the company has suggested installing nets..NETS!…on the tops of the tallest buildings on the compound to prevent such ‘falls’.

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