This seems like a movie plot device ? the sort of thing that would require a suspension of disbelief, but is necessary to advance the storyline. This however actually happened, and quite recently.
A worker responsible for shipping fourth-generation iPhone prototypes from a Chinese facility to Apple killed himself after one went missing.
Just the facts
Sun Danyong was a shy, quiet 25-year-old engineering graduate who worked for Foxconn, an Apple supplier based in Shenzhen. He was supposed to ship 16 handsets directly from the assembly line on July 9th. At some point over the next few days, he discovered that there were only 15 devices.
Panicked? Well if he wasn't, he should've been, considering what wound up happening to him.
Sun reported the missing device to his boss on Monday, July 13th, but what took place next isn't entirely clear. Reports indicate that soon after, Foxconn security employees paid a visit to the twenty-something at his apartment. The ?gentlemen? allegedly ransacked the home in search of the prototype ? which is, according to Chinese law, illegal ? but found nothing there. According to text messages Sun later sent to friends, the security team held the young man captive, interrogated and beat him up. Foxconn denies there were any physical abuses.
What happened after that is irrefutable. The building's surveillance video revealed that at 3 am the following Thursday, Sun jumped out a 12th-story window and plummeted to his death.
According to the deceased young man's friends, Sun was angry and embarrassed over the way Foxconn had treated him. He wanted to enact some sort of revenge against the company, they said, so he was planning to get even by ?doing something big.?
Is this Apple's fault?
Some media types are zeroing in on Apple's dictatorial control over product secrecy, asserting that this put a ridiculous amount of stress on the vendor ? and by association, an employee who couldn't handle it. That feels a bit like a surface-level analysis to me. It's too easy to chalk the whole situation up to a villainous corporation, and its evil vendors, doing evil things to poor, unsuspecting individuals. There's more to it than that.
Some Asian families put tremendous pressure on their children to be successful, and some old-fashioned traditions even equate a person's individual worth with the performance of his company. In that type of environment, a worker's blunder can shame him on a deep level. And if Foxconn believed it couldn't live up to its agreements because of this kid, it may well have felt justified in sending thugs after him.
I?m not familiar with Shenzhen (and if you are, please correct me if I've got this wrong), but generally speaking, many traditional folk in Asia still believe in a ?group is more important than any individual? mentality. This goes back thousands of years.
If you?re wondering if an old-fashioned mindset really has anything to do with modern times, consider this: My own parents once told me while I was growing up, ?The nail that stands out is the first one that gets hammered down.? I don't subscribe to that way of thinking (of course not; I grew up here), but let me tell you ? right or wrong, it still lives and breathes in some people today.
For the record, I don't agree with Foxconn's approach (if they did indeed send bruisers out to pummel one of its workers). But even though it's unthinkable to some here in the States, I fully believe that some companies in other societies feel righteous in their abuses.
The New York Times wonders if this is what happens when companies work across borders, as they inject rigid requirements into workplaces that are steeped in cultures they don't fully understand.
One final note: Though Foxconn admits no wrongdoing, it has compensated Sun's family the equivalent of more than $44,000. Sun's girlfriend received an Apple laptop computer.
[via iClarified, NYT]