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May 26, 2010
Apple, Dell, HP Edgy About 'Sweatshop' Suicides in China

The PR, not to say corporate, mettle of U.S. electronics companies that have products assembled in China is being tested by a series of worker suicides at a huge factory there.

Apple, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard issued statements yesterday on the situation at a Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. plant in southern China at which workers have jumped to their deaths from dormitory buildings. Hon Hai, based in Taiwan, also goes by the trade name Foxconn, The Wall Street Journal advises.

On a media tour of the plant site in Shenzhen, China, Terry Gou, chairman of Hon Hai,  denied the company is running sweatshops and said "It is very difficult to manage a manufacturing team of more than 800,000 people," half of whom work in Shenzhen. Gou showed off a swimming pool being used by two of the 400,000 workers at the plant. 

Apple issued a statement saying, "We are deeply committed to ensuring that conditions throughout our supply chain are safe and workers are treated with respect and dignity."

Dell said: "We expect our suppliers to employ the same high standards we do in our own facilities."

HP says it's investigating "the Foxconn practices that may be associated with these tragic events."

This actually is a situation that all computer and gadget-using Americans share in, since U.S. manufacturers often rely on lower cost plants overseas to supply products or components.  And we all love low prices, don't we?

Fortune/CNN reports there have been nine apparent suicides at the Shenzhen plant so far this year, and that Foxconn is planning to add safety nets around all its dormitories to keep workers from falling to their deaths. Wow!

This is some kind of a fateful opportunity for U.S. companies doing business in China, and likely elsewhere overseas, to get very serious about promoting fair and livable labor standards -- and for U.S. consumers to think hard about the conditions in which their favorite lower cost products from overseas may be produced. 

"Apple is deeply committed to ensuring that conditions throughout our supply chain are safe and workers are treated with respect and dignity," the company said.

It will be interesting, indeed, to see how that sort of expressed resolve plays out in China and elsewhere on U.S. "supply chains."




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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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