'Violence of capitalism' under fireGlobal Times
July 23 2009
By Qiu Wei
In the ruthless enterprise culture typical of Chinese business, workers' rights are at the center of heated debate across the country after an employee at an iPhone factory killed himself because a prototype phone went missing.
Apple Inc responded to the death yesterday by saying its suppliers are supposed to treat employees properly, but the US-based company declined to respond to a Global Times inquiry on whether Apple would suspend its cooperation with Foxconn Technology Group, where the man who committed suicide worked, if the latter is found to have adopted illegal practices that led to the worker’s death on July 16.
Jill Tan, an Apple spokeswoman in Hong Kong, issued only a brief statement about the incident.
“We are saddened by the tragic loss of this young employee, and we are awaiting results of the investigations into his death,” Tan said. “We require our suppliers to treat all workers with dignity and respect.”
The man who killed himself, Sun Danyong, 25, worked in product communications at Foxconn Technology Group, a Taiwanese firm that makes many Apple products at a massive factory in the southern city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.
Sun was responsible for shipping 16 iPhone prototypes to Apple’s Cupertino, California, headquarters for further testing. But he later discovered one of the phones was missing. Sun alerted Foxconn and watched the subsequent investigation unfold, including a search of his apartment.
He killed himself shortly thereafter.
Sun’s death has aroused public anger against Foxconn. Gu Qinming, an officer with Foxconn in charge of security, claimed that he fell victim to finger-pointing, as many online postings speculated that he should have been held accountable for the suicide, a charge Gu dismissed.
Gu, fearing harassment, said his family had been put in danger from the accusations, as many people believed his actions in some way prompted Sun’s death.
Dozens of Chinese media outlets have carried opinion pieces questioning the ruthless enterprise culture of local business, saying Sun’s death wasn’t just a random occurrence. “The violence of capitalism” and “the wolfish nature of Chinese companies” have been cited by newspapers such as Hangzhou-based Today’s Morning as contributing to Sun’s suicide.
“The death of the young man due to the loss of a phone reflects the dark side of the corporate profit-seeking process. Employees, who are in disadvantageous positions, can hardly stand against management, or protect their dignity, in such a profit-oriented corporate culture,” read an opinion piece titled Workers’ Rights Lost in the World’s Factory published in Xi’an-based Chinese Business View.
A commentary on china.com.cn noted that aggressiveness could well maintain the competitiveness and efficiency of companies in their initial stages.
“However, it cannot function as the sole theme of management’s strategy when market share increases and enterprises grow,” the post said. “Employees can hardly develop a sense of belonging and share the values coming from this corporate culture.”
Some, however, have called for calm amid the uproar led by newspapers and online users. News portal cnhubei.com in Hubei province accused the “Web mob” of using the incident as a springboard to vent irrational sentiments. It noted that there hadn’t been any evidence supporting many allegations, including that Sun had been beaten by Foxconn security personnel.
Gu was quoted by the Southern Metropolis Daily as saying he never hit Sun. Gu reportedly said that after three security personnel searched Sun’s apartment and didn’t find the phone.
Gu said he didn’t think Sun was being truthful about what happened to the phone, the paper reported.
“I got a bit agitated,” Gu was quoted as saying. “I pointed my finger at him and said he was trying to shift the blame.”
The reaction by the media and the public over Sun’s death demonstrates mistrust toward management of Chinese businesses. When it comes to corporate management, modern enterprises have to adjust their instrument of management, Jean Lee, a professor of management at the China Europe International Business School, told the Global Times.
“There must be a deficiency in management behind the death of this employee,” she speculated. “A caring enterprise and boss would help placate their employees.”
Kang Juan and Guo Qiang contributed to this story