iphone.jpgWhat if you found out a product you use every day, a product you had planned on buying again when your present product gave up the ghost, was indirectly killing workers?

That appears to be what’s happening at a Chinese manufacturer that makes the iPhone.

I admit it. I have an iPhone, one of the first that came out. And lately the thing is making me wonder if the pursuit of the latest gadget without any thought is smart or ethical.

Ten workers at two factories in Zhenzhen, China, have killed themselves, most jumping off of buildings at the production complex. The facilities’ operator Foxconn, makes electronics for major U.S. companies including Apple; and conditions there, according to local reports, are extremely high pressure.

Problems at this facility are nothing new. Apple and the other manufacturers, Dell and HP, have known for some time that things weren’t quite right at Foxconn.

This from Time magazine:

Working conditions at Foxconn’s factories have been under scrutiny for years. The attention was heightened in 2009 when 25-year-old employee Sun Danyong, who had been accused by management of losing an iPhone prototype, jumped to his death from his apartment in Shenzhen. Chinese press reports said Sun, who grew up in a poor village in Yunnan province and attended the top-rated Harbin Institute of Technology, might have been physically abused by company security guards searching for the missing device.

The string of deaths has drawn attention to the labor practices of a highly successful Fortune 500 company that has 420,000 workers on its payroll in Shenzhen alone. Two dozen activists protested outside the company’s Hong Kong offices on Tuesday, calling on Foxconn to improve working conditions and raise wages. The Taiwan-owned company, which is an arm of the Hon Hai Group, has defended the treatment of its workers. “A lot of things cannot be said at this point, but we are quietly doing our job,” CEO Terry Gou told a business forum on Monday. With over 900,000 employees globally in the Hon Hai Group, Gou acknowledged the difficulties of employee management. “But,” he said, “we are confident we will get things under control shortly.”

Shortly may be too late for workers at Foxconn.

This whole thing has me wondering about how we can contribute to change in this global marketplace. Clearly, Apple charges a premium for its products. You would think such a company could ensure that its expensive products are made in factories where people are treated humanely and paid well; or, dare I say it, maybe even try and make some of these products in the good old USA. (Lots of US workers are out of work if you haven’t noticed Steve Jobs.)

In a New York Times article today about the suicides an Apple spokesman said the company is “saddened and upset” by the suicides, and the piece goes on to say Apple, Dell and HP are now investigating the plant.

My question is, what took so long? If US consumers were protesting such treatment and voting with their feet, causing sales to disappear, I bet the suicide problem at Foxconn would also disappear.

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