Blowing Smoke

The deadly explosion Friday at Foxconn’s Chengdu site killed three workers and injured 15 others. Will the company, at long last, feel its workers pain?

It says here, no.

Apple, one of the larger customers for the site, released a statement that was at once nonjudgmental and noncommittal. In it, the iPad maker had this to say: “We are deeply saddened by the tragedy at Foxconn’s plant in Chengdu, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We are working closely with Foxconn to understand what caused this terrible event.”


For a company that takes incredible umbrage at the slightest hint of disclosure, I suppose it would be asking too much for it to reveal any hint of emotion now. But Apple has long shown itself to be disinterested in the ugly goings-on at its largest supplier. Report after report has ripped Foxconn for worker abuses ranging from environmental conditions to overtime and penalties for mistakes generally associated with penal colonies.

Reportedly as much as 30% of the highly profitable iPad 2 tablets are built in Chengdu. If that’s the case, there is absolutely no reason Apple should not have an employee on site, 24/7, ensuring operations are running smoothly. This begs the question, where was that employee? Did he or she not know about the conditions in the polishing department where the explosion reportedly took place, and how workers complained “the department is full of aluminum dust” and “(e)ven though they have worn gloves, their hands are still covered by dust and so (is) their face and clothes?”

Other major Foxconn customers, such as H-P, Dell and Motorola, generally have avoided the scrutiny that Apple gets, but that doesn’t — or shouldn’t — make them any less culpable. It’s a convenient excuse to hide behind the veil of outsourcing as a means to ignore what goes on inside your supplier’s factories.

To me, it’s corporate-sanctioned cannibalism. We are supposed to be better than that.

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association ( He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow

One thought on “Blowing Smoke

  1. The focus is now shifting away from the unfortunate human loss of life and onto the effect the incident could have on the production of Apple’s iPad 2 which just a month back was said to be facing the “mother of all backlogs”. Analysts will begin weighing in today with many expected to predict that this tragedy will only worsen Apple’s supply issues.

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