iPad Factory Explosion Kills Three Foxconn Workers

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An explosion at a Foxconn factory making Apple’s iPad 2 has left three workers dead and many injured

Three workers have died and fifteen are injured following an explosion at a Chinese factory owned by Taiwanese tech manufacturer Foxconn, one of several making Apple’s iPad 2.

The explosion took place on Friday evening, in the factory of a Foxconn subsidiary in Chengdu, which is the capital city of China’s Sichuan province. According to media reports, the explosion happened in a polishing workshop in the factory where Apple’s iPad 2 was being made, and is believed to have been caused by a built-up of aluminium dust. Videos of the aftermath of the explosion can be found on YouTube.

Activists have said they warned Foxconn  of the problem earlier this month, and accused the company of putting production before its workers. The company has denied that production of Apple devices will be seriously hit.

Three Workers Dead

Two workers died in the explosion at 7pm on 20 May, and sixteen were rushed to hospital where three of them were treated for serious injuries, and one has subsequently died. Foxconn issued a statement via the All Things Digital blog, confirming that two workers had died on their injuries, and has followed up with a statement confirming the third death.

Still from YouTube video by Engadget

“Sadly, a third employee has died from injuries from the May 20 explosion at one of the polishing workshops at our company’s Hongfujin Precision Electronics (Chengdu) Co. Ltd. facility in Chengdu. Fifteen other employees were injured in that accident and six of those employees have been treated and released from the hospital,” said the statement. “Foxconn is working with medical professionals and the local government to ensure that all of the injured employees receive the highest quality medical treatment”

Production has been suspended at the site of the explosion until the completion of the investigation, as has work at similar polishing plants. “The cause of this tragic accident is still being investigated by a joint investigation task force led by government officials and law enforcement authorities, but that task force has communicated initial findings that the accident was caused by an explosion of combustible dust in a duct,” said the statement.

Apple Saddened

Foxconn and China’s government-run Xinhua news agency later updated this and confirmed that three workers had been killed.

Apple also took the unusual step of issuing a statement, again via the All Things Digital blog, on the explosion. “We are deeply saddened by the tragedy at Foxconn’s plant in Chengdu, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families,” Apple said. “We are working closely with Foxconn to understand what caused this terrible event.”

There has so far been no official confirmation on the cause of the explosion, but many media reports cite a possible aluminium dust explosion, which can happen when powdered combustible material is concentrated in an enclosed space.

iPad 2 Delays?

Foxconn is the world’s largest maker of computer components and produces items for big name brands including Apple, Sony and Nokia. It employs approximately 920,000 people in mainland China alone.

The company moved quickly to reassure markets and analysts that the explosion would not delay production of the iPad 2, although it has been reported that the Chengdu site made around 20 percent of iPad 2 devices.

In a meeting with suppliers, Terry Gou, chairman of Foxconn parent company Hon Hai, was quoted by the China Times (Google translation available here), saying that the explosion would not delay iPad 2 production or new products related to the iPad or iPhone.

A questionof blame?

The explosion has re-started controversy about Foxconn’s working conditions, which have previously been linked to a large number of worker suicides.

A Chinese group, Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), has said that Foxconn ignored warnings about safety at its plants, which specifically mentioned aluminium dust. “The explosion is not accidental, said a SACOM statement. “SACOM pinpointed the problem of the aluminum dust in the polishing department in our report in early May. Regrettably, Foxconn turns a deaf ear to SACOM’s findings. After the spate of suicides, the blast also affirms Foxconn puts productivity of iPad before workers’ lives.”

Earlier concerns about the Foxconn suicides led Apple and other tech giants to conduct investigations, which eventually gave the company a clean bill of health. In June last year Apple chief executive Steve Jobs dismissed claims that Foxconn was a sweatshop.

In May 2010 Foxconn agreed to raise the wages of its workers by 20 percent, despite the reports that the Taiwanese company had considered closing its mainland Chinese plants. Foxconn also installed anti jumper nets on its high rise buildings to prevent more suicides.

Despite these measures, last October Foxconn was forced to strenuously reject ‘unsubstantiated allegations’ in the Chinese media that its staff were still being abused.

In February this year Apple published its annual report on its supply chain, in which it uncovered an increasing problem of child labour, after finding that 91 children under the age of 16 years old had worked at other suppliers in 2010.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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