Sun Dan-Yong, 25, died in an apparent suicide on July 16 after jumping out of his 12th-floor apartment in Shenzhen, in southeastern China, in a tragedy that raises questions on technology outsourcing, Chinese labour laws and possibly even counterfeiting.
Sun Dan-Yong worked for Foxconn, a Taiwan-based manufacturer contracted by some of the world’s biggest technology companies, including Apple.
He had been entrusted with sending 16 top-secret, new iPhone prototypes to Apple’s offices in the United States. But at some point, one went missing.
That’s when Sun’s life went downhill.
According to his employer, Foxconn, Sun “was not able to cope with the stress” of the loss of one of the prototypes under his care. But Chinese media reports say that, before his death, Sun was interrogated and beaten up by Foxconn security.
Foxconn has not officially denied or confirmed the reports, but the company said in a press release that it had subsequently suspended one of its supervisors.
The company also compensated Sun’s family. According to the New York Times, they received 44,000 dollars, and his girlfriend got an Apple Macbook.
Foxconn refuses to comment further on the matter while an ongoing investigation is conducted by the police and labour departments of Shenzhen.
Apple’s official response in the meantime is that it is “saddened”, and is waiting for the investigation’s results.
Sun worked at Foxconn’s factory in nearby Dongguan, which had just built 16 prototypes of a new-generation iPhone, as yet unseen by the public.
The iPhone is one of Apple’s biggest commercial successes, with about 21 million units sold to date.
Apple is able to be that successful because it keeps new models of iPhones tightly guarded secrets, resulting in massive public demand for them.
When the iPhone went missing, the China Daily and subsequent Internet chatter said that he was interrogated and beaten. Other reports say that when he couldn’t find the phone, he was questioned but not mistreated. His apartment was searched by Foxconn guards. Sometime later, he was dead.
Foxconn is contracted by Apple, Nintendo, Sony and others for the manufacture of their newest and most desirable consumer electronic goods. But in a perhaps bizarre contradiction to such high-profile contracts, Foxconn has been known for mistreating its workers, according to labour groups.
Dee Lee, director of Handshake Labour, a labour union based in nearby Guangzhou, told FRANCE 24: “Before this incident, Foxconn had already been put under the media spotlight five times, due to labour problems in the company. Foxconn is like a synonym for companies with bad labour policies.”
New York-based China Labour Watch published a report in August 2008 detailing Foxconn’s treatment of its workers, who it says work long hours in terrible conditions.
Li Qiang, director of China Labour Watch, told FRANCE 24 that Foxconn “has employed a very militaristic style of management at its factories. Foxconn’s management is very rough with its workers. This is something we’ve seen systematically at its factories.”
In 2008, a new Chinese labour law was supposed to improve the condition of factory workers. But Foxconn “has not totally implemented all the labour contract law”, says Li, adding that “Sun Dan-Yong would have to work late into the night and often overtime.”
China Labour Watch contacted Apple upon the publication of its report, but the company did not respond.
So far, Apple’s official response has only been a brief statement that concluded: “We require that our suppliers treat all workers with dignity and respect.”