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Chinese Employee Loses iPhone Prototype, Kills Self 514

tlhIngan writes "Physical intimidation of a Foxconn employee, 25 year-old Sun Danyong, and a possibly-illegal search of his house may have led to suicide after an iPhone prototype in his possession was lost. Foxconn is Apple's long-time manufacturing partner for the iPhone. Entrusted with 16 iPhone prototypes, Danyong discovered that one was missing and searched the factory for it. When it didn't turn up, he reported the incident to his boss, who ordered his apartment searched. There are reports of physical intimidation by Foxconn security personnel. This ended tragically on Thursday at 3 AM, when Danyong jumped from his apartment building to his death." VentureBeat notes that "Apple exerts immense pressure on its business partners [to] help it maintain secrecy." An Apple spokesperson said this to CNet: "We are saddened by the tragic loss of this young employee, and we are awaiting results of the investigations into his death. We require our suppliers to treat all workers with dignity and respect."
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Chinese Employee Loses iPhone Prototype, Kills Self

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  • Poor guy... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Starturtle ( 1148659 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @03:48PM (#28773815) Homepage
    ...probably the only way he could save his family from being threatened.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @03:50PM (#28773851)

    They also sent goonsquads over to worker's houses to search for stolen parts and stuff.

  • Re:Who cares (Score:2, Interesting)

    by evil_aar0n ( 1001515 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @04:05PM (#28774019)

    Are you factoring in the culture in this case? Honor means a lot to Asians. For them, failure of this magnitude may have only one acceptable response: seppuku, or the equivalent for the locale. It may seem a little drastic for Americans - is a product or company worth that much? - but we're obviously, and thankfully, not the model for every society.

  • by flitty ( 981864 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @04:11PM (#28774087)
    I try not to think of how/where most consumer electronics are built. I fear for what I'd find. I'm sure Apple isn't the only corporation with an overseas manufacturing business that involves some version of morally reprehensible behavior.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @04:12PM (#28774099)

    This was purposefully held back by the Chinese government after Apple asked them not to release it prior to the iPhone 3GS launch. And people were speculating what the 'S' stood for. Now we know.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @04:17PM (#28774157)

    Not sure how illegal a search of the guy's apartment would be if they own the place.

    I seem to remember an article on here about foxconn "city", everyone ate,worked and lived on the foxconn campus.

  • And that is why... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @04:31PM (#28774361)

    I am a PC. :)

  • RIP (Score:2, Interesting)

    by planckscale ( 579258 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @04:35PM (#28774433) Journal
    This is just sad. You know the security was just all over the guy saying "you're going to lose your job, never find work again, you will be sued, lose your house, and your wife/girlfriend will leave you too!" No doubt they probably shoved him around trying to intimidate him. If they were so concerned about their prototypes they'd remotely wipe them, RFID, Lojack etc. etc. Yeah the guy may have misplaced it but mistakes occasionally happen. Doc the guy the price of the phone from his pay and be done with it. If it turns up on some blog somewhere, then go after him for non disclosure. Still, I can never understand suicide, perhaps the guy had other issues and this just was the tipping point.
  • by hattig ( 47930 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @04:38PM (#28774479) Journal

    Who are you going to buy instead? Everyone gets their systems built in China, under these conditions. Foxconn is probably one of the better ones.

    It's the cost of cheap, disposable goods in the West.

    Used to be you'd buy a fridge built in your country, a TV, a car, a washing machine, everything, and it would last years and years. But they were expensive, and major purchases. They kept an economy alive, with people being paid reasonable wages. The electronics industry in a rapid speed to be competitive has changed this. We could have a computer that lasted 10 years, but it would really hold things back if you gamed, or did real work. So it drove an industry of rapid upgrades for computers and personal electronics, that don't last long. Western design, eastern construction.

    But these eastern companies don't have the same standards of construction, of employee care, or values, as we do. Additionally the stresses of overwork are immense, they don't have cushy offices, free coffee and 9-5 hours like many of us. Also their upbringing is different. Coupled together, it will add up to a situation where people burn out rapidly, or worse commit suicide if something goes wrong. Many people to replace them of course. Nothing like your own company breaking into your own living space and scaring the bejesus out of you.

    Fucking killing yourself over a front-facing camera, or an OLED screen, or whatever the iPhone 4 will have. Hell, it was probably an iPod Touch 3 for all we know. That shows a massive failure of the value system. Hell, it'll turn out to be the iPhone clone rip-offs that Foxconn probably make on the side won't it? As long as the Chinese elite bosses are okay, that's all that matters. Everything else is a meatgrinder. It's 18th Century with hi-tech, and it won't improve until we stop feeding it.

  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @04:42PM (#28774541)

    I don't like playing cultural imperialist, but something about current Asian cultures seems to me to be broken: this isn't exactly the first suicide of its sort, or even an uncommon phenomenon, just one of the more high-profile cases (since it's Apple, and a senior guy). Western culture isn't immune to these effects either (cf. high-profile financial advisors committing suicide in 2008-2009)

    Um, this wasn't a suicide. And it's a nice bit of cultural stereotyping to picture asian people happily falling on their swords. It is deeply insulting (or you're deeply stupid) to think that someone of any culture would commit suicide just for losing / selling a production prototype.

    Funny thing is, we know exactly where it went- it popped up on ebay recently and was big news. It was also dead as a doornail- nobody could load firmware onto it. Yeah, it was a fuckup, but Apple could easily recover that phone if they wanted to, either legally or by simply saying "please", or giving the seller what he paid for it (unlikely.)

    Which do you think is more likely? That he was riddled with guilt over the loss of a prototype worth maybe a few hundred dollars in parts and little intellectual property value (since there are millions of copies in the world?) and jumped....or was pushed over the balcony ledge by a bunch of company goons who were told to make an example of him to employees, with a public story that "our employees are so dedicated to your security, they'll..."? And really, how impartial do you think the investigation is going to be? In China, these companies own and run entire cities that make Mall of America look like a strip-mall. They don't even need to pay off the police- they already employ them.

  • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @04:49PM (#28774637) Journal

    They do tend to take more responsibility for their actions than we do in the West.

    Or, rather, they are more likely to make scapegoats pay the ultimate price.

    Do you think executing the head of their FDA-equivalent solved the underlying problems that led to so many public disgraces due to contaminants? Do you think that person was solely responsible for those problems?

    Executing that man was PR. Nothing less, nothing more. It's the other actions they have, or have not, taken that would truly demonstrate whether they have taken responsibility.

  • Suicide? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by readin ( 838620 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @04:49PM (#28774643)
    Or was he helped out the window?
  • Re:Poor guy... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by theheadlessrabbit ( 1022587 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @05:00PM (#28774801) Homepage Journal

    in South Korea, the time of year when students get their report carts is known as 'jumping season'

  • Re:Poor guy... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by oldhack ( 1037484 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @05:03PM (#28774847)
    That seems to track alcohol consumption.
  • I don't like playing cultural imperialist, but something about current Asian cultures seems to me to be broken

    It's not the culture, it's the demographics.

    Take China. Population 1.3 billion. But only 500 million of those are really taking part in the new economy. The other 800 million live in rural poverty. In fact, most of the 500 million who aren't, typically don't fare much better.

    What does this mean in practical terms? It means that unless you are incredibly well educated, connected or monied, you are very, very expendable. There are literally ten people lined up behind you waiting for the same job, which means unless you are prepared to work enormous hours, under extreme pressure, in terrible conditions, you won't get it.

    I had a talk with someone recently back from a business trip to Shanghai. Their group took a short walk through the city one evening, between the rows of shining new skyscrapers that carpet the metropolitan area. As they walked, they could see into offices where employees could be seen through the windows, sleeping on the desks they had been working at all day. How are you supposed to compete with that?

    China is witnessing the kind of rapid capitalism not seen in the world since the 1890's. An economy where labour is cheap and people are treated worse and paid less because there are so many others, literally hungry enough to so the same for even less than that. The kind of capitalism that gave rise to theories like Say's Law [], which held you could never have massive unemployment because there would always be people willing to work for a bowl of rice a day.

    And do you know what the most ironic thing about this whole state of affairs is? China has never actually had a communist revolution.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @05:10PM (#28774969)

    Your local farmer's market would be happy to sell you all the fixins' of a Big Mac, and you can get a good idea about how sustainable their operation is by actually talking to the people who farm it.

    Wow, you must live in a different universe than I do. My farmers market is just up the street from me. Actually I can go to two of them, one right down in Minneapolis and one right in my town. Both, oddly enough, carry melons and corn in June.

    In Minnesota.

    Think about it.

    Now I'm sure its possible to grow melons and corn in a greenhouse, but not economically and not cheaply. It is far more likely that this is the same stuff i get in my grocery store.

    Please pay attention the next time you go to a 'farmers' market. You might be surprised.

  • Re:suppliers... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @05:12PM (#28774995) Homepage
    A better way of putting it would be "how do you plan to pay premiums for feelgood products when the subcontractors involved lie through their teeth?" I've done plenty of business in China and seen everything spiffed up for the big customer visit, workers called in a big meeting and told to lie, etc. Doesn't surprise me one bit that a Apple vendor has hired thugs for security. At least the worker at fault had the gumption to take responsibility for his failure by committing suicide.
  • Re:suppliers... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Kurusuki ( 1049294 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @05:18PM (#28775097)
    You know, making cross-cultural references like that doesn't always go as you expect. You can't go comparing working in a sweatshop in, say China, to working in a sweatshop in the USA. In places like China, especially the more rural towns, your options are often work in a sweat shop for next to nothing, or work in the fields doing back breaking labor for far less. While sweatshops aren't glamorous, they are jobs. I'd personally compare working in a sweatshop in China to working at a bigbox store like Walmart in the USA. They aren't desirable jobs, but for some people, they provide income that would otherwise not be there.
  • by Megane ( 129182 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @06:05PM (#28775663) Homepage
    It makes even more sense if you know about Tetraphobia. []
  • Anonymous Coward (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @06:05PM (#28775667)

    I haven't read all of the posts yet, but one solution seems to have slipped the collective mind.

    Maybe he DID steal it, the bullying was warranted, and he killed himself to avoid going to jail.... ...I'm just sayin....

  • Re:suppliers... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @06:55PM (#28776181) Homepage

    Yeah, I've done that a few times. It's not "discriminated against", whatever that means (not surprised NPR took that angle, though). Chinese people consider foreign-invested projects as desirable, while local innovation is considered shabby and not likely to increase China's standing in the world.

    For those of you having problems wrapping your brain around this idea, compare this: you're considering two vendors, one owned by Joel and one by Joe-Jack. Joel wears his sunglasses indoors, has an iPod conspicuously on his hip, and speaks English the same as people on TV. Joe-Jack takes his sunglassess off when it's not sunny, has an old cell phone in a holster on his hip, and speaks with the accent of where he's from. Which would everyone choose to develop a product?

    To make everything crystal-clear, Joel represents the company with foreigners working for it, and Joe-Jack is the face of indigenous development in China.

  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @06:57PM (#28776195) Journal

    New Balance shoes are made in the US and UK

    The "Made in China" label on my 622s says otherwise.

    Your local farmer's market would be happy to sell you all the fixins' of a Big Mac, and you can get a good idea about how sustainable their operation is by actually talking to the people who farm it.

    I've never heard anything about farm life -- either from people who used to do it or less directly -- which suggests it's any better than sweatshop labor.

  • Re:Poor guy... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kklein ( 900361 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @08:36PM (#28776997)

    I haven't heard much about China, but in Japan (8th highest suicide rate) "losing face" can end your career. Submitting a bad report and having your boss say "Maybe you should re-write that" is akin to a death sentance.

    You read that in the American media, right?

    Japanese people are not so precious. I've lived in Japan off and on (mostly on) for the last 10 years. Guess what? People here are the same as anywhere else.

    The corporate culture you describe is something I have never seen or heard of, outside of stupid 80s movies about how Japan was going to take over the world, which were themselves just retreads of stupid WWII propaganda films about how Japan was going to take over the world. It is largely a fabrication based on a handful of isolated incidents. Does it happen? Of course. It happens in Western countries too. It's just far, far from common.

    Full Disclosure: In addition to living here, I took 200 credits of Asian language, culture, history, and political science in college, studying both in the US and Japan. 'm not talking out of my ass here.

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @09:56PM (#28777517) Journal
    Problem is, that when we gave them MFN in 1994, it was with the agreement that in 2002, they would drop trade barriers AND free their money. They reneged. W did not make them stick with it, which is EXACTLY why America is in the shape that we are. Had the Yuan risen slowly, then trade would have leveled off. Now, we have to get China to do the right thing by the WORLD and SLOWLY free their money. I doubt that they will.

    My guess is that next year, we will bring pressure on CHina to live up to their obligations. They speak about the dollar dropping, but that is as much, if not more, their fault.
  • Re:Yeah sure (Score:3, Interesting)

    by twostix ( 1277166 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @09:59PM (#28777539)

    If people in the west think that this sort of thing is limited to low level Chinese citizens they'd be wrong as well.

    Witness the latest Rio Tinto troubles - they've "arrested" an Australian Rio Tinto (a major aussie-uk mining company that operates in Aus) employee on "suspicion" of "economic espionage" - holding him without charge for two weeks now. WTF is "economic espionage"? It's upsetting strategic Chinese interests in the course of doing business with said interests is what it is.

    See apparently it's just a happy coincidence that just two weeks ago Rio Tinto majorly embarrassed the government run Chinalco giving it the finger on a $19.5 billion dollar deal to allow Chinas government to own nearly half of Rio Tinto. Also the fact that Rio Tinto has been the loudest in refusing the Chinese governments increasingly aggressive demands to cut the price of Iron Ore 45% has no bearing on the arrest either, or the fact that they also just arrested four CEOS of "private" Chinese steel mills.

    No those things have no bearing on anything at all according to China's government run media, and if you can't trust state owned media of a totalitarian government who can you trust?

    China's awakening, this sort of thing is going to become more and more common as it asserts its position and we should all be worried.

  • Re:Poor guy... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Tuesday July 21, 2009 @11:10PM (#28777935)

    Everyone dies. What is so wrong with going out at your own choosing?

    God says you're wrong son.

    Western aversion to suicide is religious. In Western Christian churches only God has the power to choose who lives or dies. Eastern religions like Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism don't have this compunction. In Bhuddism, suicide is one of those "I really rather you didn'ts", being a reincarnation religion it doesn't matter that much, you just may have to incur some bad Karma which determines weather you come back as a higher or lower creature.

  • Re:Poor guy... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ablmf ( 1263606 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:03AM (#28778501)
    I am Chinese and I think you really understand what is happening here. But it's really hard to find a way out. If we have more protection of employees, higher salaries, less working hours, it will definitely make massive unemployment. The point is, if we do think all people are born EQUAL, we should accept that, some one work harder and require less will get the job, the ones who works less but earn much more salary will lost his job, even if they are your fellow citizens.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @03:53AM (#28779127)

    "when we gave them MFN in 1994" lol I love how 'normal trading relations' are a gift now.. China was opening up and the USA wanted to be first in line to make use of them.

    You also talk about China doing the right thing.. which by what you mean is something to benefit US. To put things in perspective China has to have economic growth of about 8% or so just to prevent massive rises in unemployment (8 or so million people a month) and the instability that would come from that.

    China you say did not live up to their obligations. And you predict that in the future 'we will bring pressure on CHina to live up to their obligations'.. Well guess what, back in 2005 that's exactly what happened. And guess what, back in 2005 China moved to help reconcile that by opening up their currency somewhat to trading. OMG you're right if you were commenting in 2004. But you're not. You're just doing what makes the USA hated around the world. Whinging when and as we have it as good as we really do.

    We are the greatest, we are a financial, cultural and business super hub that effectively rules the world. We sneeze and the world feels it. Our problems are our own. We had inflationary policies introducing trillions of extra cash into the money cycle, and the USD drops.. this is what happens. We also had a massive and chronically corrupt financial system that wiped out 50-60 trillion dollars worth of the WORLDS assets. Much of it offshore in the EU, but a lot of it in the US. Enough to make a recession into a world depression.

    We can fix this; but it won't start by blaming others, and it won't be helped by continuing our reputation as conceited and arrogant. Real efforts at continuous reform is needed.

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.