Apple supplier Foxconn insists brain-injured worker leave hospital

Fri, Oct 12, 2012, 01:00

FOXCONN, THE Taiwanese maker of Apple iPhones and other consumer durables, has again been criticised over working conditions at its China operations after it called for a worker who sustained brain damage in an accident at its Shenzhen facility to be discharged temporarily from hospital to allow for a disability assessment.

It’s the latest public relations challenge for Foxconn, a unit of the giant Hon Hai Precision Industry, which employs nearly one million people in China, and comes as the company is working flat out to meet increased orders for the iPhone 5. As well as making iPads and iPhones, Foxconn also makes PlayStations for Sony, the Nintendo Wii, PCs for Hewlett-Packard and Dell and equipment for Microsoft and Cisco Systems.

Zhang Tingzhen (26) reportedly had nearly half his brain surgically removed after surviving an electric shock at a Shenzhen factory nearly a year ago. He fell four metres after the shock and the brain damage he suffered has left him incontinent, unable to speak or look after himself.

In a telephone interview, Mr Zhang’s father, Zhang Guangde, confirmed the story and said Foxconn had been sending the family text messages since July 20th, demanding he be removed from hospital to allow him to be assessed at the factory in Huizhou where he was originally hired, located 69km from the hospital.

“We have refused the request because our son can still not speak and he has no ability to be on his own. He cannot be moved. Foxconn has stopped answering the phone recently, and so far the hospital bill has been paid by social insurance,” Zhang Guangde said, speaking from his hometown in Henan.

While the company said it would be prepared to send him back to the hospital after the assessment, his father said he was too ill to be moved.

Zhang Guangde said he himself had to return home to the family farm in Henan province to tend to the wheat, “otherwise what will we eat next year?”

There has been a litany of bad press over Foxconn’s poor performance in labour audits. In addition, Apple has frequently been accused of making vast profits at the expense of Chinese workers.

The news of the Zhang family’s plight comes after reports last week that 4,000 workers downed tools at a Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou in Henan. Foxconn said there was no wildcat strike, merely a row between production and quality-control personnel that was resolved quickly. The company blamed the story on a tweet by a disgruntled employee.

Last month, workers on the night shift at Foxconn in Taiyuan went on the rampage after a row between a young woman working at the factory and a security guard escalated into a full-scale riot. Thousands of police were called in to restore order.

Two years ago, Foxconn was criticised over working conditions after 13 employees at the company’s plants in southern China died by suicide.

Those deaths were blamed on tough working conditions, and led to calls for better treatment of staff. Foxconn was forced to increase wages and construct giant barriers and safety nets on the roofs of the factory buildings to stop people jumping off.