Press reports of compensation packages for the families may have encouraged more workers to end their lives. The head of Hon Hai, the Tawainese parent firm, formally asked his workers for a written promise not to kill themselves, and for an agreement to forego any compensation for family members. The company chairman later apologized for that rather heartless request.
The Foxconn factory makes parts for Apple, Nokia and other consumer electronic firms. Now iPhone users around the world have a better understanding of the working conditions that make their wonder device possible.
The highly publicized suicides have overshadowed what may be an even more troubling issue: Another factory which manufactures iPhone touch screens may be making its workers ill.
Various news agencies have reported that more than 40 workers at the Wintek Corp. electronics assembly factory in Suzhou were hospitalized in connection with exposure to the chemical n-hexane while working on Apple products. As many as four workers may have died from the exposure, and English Eastday reports up to 100 people have been sickened since last year.We all inhale n-hexane in tiny amounts, since the stuff is in gasoline. But studies show that larger amounts may, over time, cause paralysis, muscle weakness and, in extreme cases, death.
N-hexane is a flammable, fast-drying chemical made from crude oil that was used to clean touch screens in the final stages of the factory's Apple product assembly wing. It is also found in a variety of other industries, including printing, textiles, furniture and shoemaking, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Wintek factory is thought to have illegally used n-hexane instead of alcohol during touch-screen manufacture. As many as 100 workers have succumbed to the ill effects of the substance.
A blog called Supply Chain Asia argues that these scandals call into question the "outsourcing mania" which has enveloped American business over the past decade:
While developing the case for an offshore or outsourced production model, firms traditionally only looked at bottom line cost savings and will have to take a much more mature approach to making these decisions going forward so as to ensure their place and success in the market.
Firms are no longer simply outsourcing their products, they are trusting partners to safeguard their brand and the availability and safety of the product.