Foxconn suicide raises issue of Chinese counterfeits

Thu, Jul 30, 2009


It’s been about a week since a Foxconn employee committed suicide after losing a fourth generation iPhone prototype he was responsible for.  Since then, a number of issues have been raised about Apple’s prevailing culture of secrecy and the working conditions of Chinese employees who help manufacture Apple products.

The missing iPhone that was at the root of the Foxconn employee’s untimely death has yet to be accounted for, and many are wondering what may have happened to it.  On that note, Reuters has an interesting article detailing the lucrative market for counterfeit electronics in China, and how sneaking out a prototype device from a factory can mean big business in a country where the economy is struggling.

Sun Danyong, the 25-year-old suicide victim who worked at contract cellphone maker Foxconn International’s massive gray and white factory complex in Dongguan, had 16 prototypes of Apple’s new fourth-generation iPhone in his possession, according to the Taiwanese company.

When one went missing, Foxconn’s security guards raided his apartment, according to a report in the People’s Daily. The phone didn’t turn up.

A likely answer, according to security experts, is that the device ended up in the hands of Shenzhen’s notoriously entrepreneurial counterfeiters.

“The copying of prototypes certainly happens a lot in the electronics and IT industries,” said Dane Chamorro, a regional general manager with Control Risks, a corporate investigations consulting firm. “You don’t have to steal them, you just have to borrow one for a day.”

…  In an earlier interview with the New York Times, Foxconn’s general manager for China said that Mr. Sun had previously lost products “several times” before getting them back again.

Apple computer, whose popular iPhone is widely copied in China, isn’t the only foreign handset maker to suffer at the hands of counterfeiters. Knock-offs of Samsung, Nokia and Motorola products are all sold openly throughout China.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 81 percent of all counterfeit goods seized at the U.S. border were from China. The value of those goods rose 40 percent in 2008, to $221.7 million.

You can check out the full article over at Reuters.


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