Explosion Rocks Foxconn iPad Factory

by Matt Klassen on May 24, 2011

It looks like tragedy has yet again struck the dysfunctional Foxconn family, the Taiwanese tech supplier for notable companies such as Apple, HP, Sony, Dell, and Nokia, as this past weekend an explosion rocked one its factories outside Chengdu, China, killing three (underpaid) employees.

You may remember Foxconn, and its parent company Hon Hai Precision Industry, for its infamous rash of employee suicides at almost exactly this time last year, tragedies that sparked condemnation and closer scrutiny from the West. In response, Foxconn wanted to show the world how much it valued human life, increasing its beleaguered employees’ wages to a paltry $293/month and throwing exciting “Love Your Life” parties.

Following the explosion this past weekend, one that took three lives, Foxconn again took the opportunity to demonstrate how much it values human life, this time by assuring the West that the supply chain for our precious iPhones and iPad will not be broken.

I would like to say that I wonder how much longer companies in the West will continue put up with the gross incompetence of Foxconn executives and their blatant disregard for human life, but unfortunately I already know the answer, as long as Foxconn produced mobile devices are still selling.

Although details surrounding the explosion at the Chengdu plant remain ambiguous, there is a report that it was sparked from chemicals used in a polishing workshop. To make things worse, the explosion comes after a report (PDF)was issued earlier this month from Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) that claimed that employees at that particular plant were grossly under-qualified to handle the dangerous chemicals used in the manufacturing of our mobile devices.

While the tragedy has sparked the expected PR spin from companies in the West such as Apple, where a spokesperson offered this statement, “We are deeply saddened by the tragedy at Foxconn’s plant in Chengdu and our hearts go out to the victims and their families.”

The response from Foxconn’s parent company Hon Hai had a distinctly different tone to it, however, as company chairman Terry Gou went out of his way to emphasize that the explosion will have no lasting impact on the production of the iPad 2 or any new products related to the iPad or iPhone that are set for production in the third quarter of this year (read, iPhone 5). As if any of us cared about that.

Of course the real tragedy is that it really is all we care about, as our voracious appetite for mobile tech is what allows veritable sweat shops like Foxconn to exist in the first place, companies that underpay unqualified employees to put their lives on the line to get us relatively affordable mobile products that still allow Apple et al. to make an absolute killing.

In response to the intense scrutiny that followed the spate of worker suicides last year both Apple and Foxconn pledged to work harder to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its employees, but unfortunately it now strikes me as hollow lip service, a PR spin designed to make us forget about the human stories behind our tech; stories that may actually make us think twice about the gadgets we use.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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