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Reporters Without Borders petitions Steve Jobs

As Chinese hacks sued senseless for iPod plant exposé

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Campaining organisation Reporters Without Borders has asked Apple big cheese Steve Jobs to intercede on behalf of two journalists who are being sued for defamation by iPod assembler Foxconn over a 15 June article they wrote for China Business News critical of conditions in the firm's factory at Longhua, near the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

Back in August, Apple dispatched an audit team to Longhua after an 11 June Daily Mail piece which described "workers driven more than 60 hours and more than six days per week, living in dormitories packed 100 to a room, earning £27 per month, and being denied visits from non-empoyees".

The resulting report largely exonerated the company, finding "no evidence whatsoever of the use of child labour or any form of forced labour" and factories which were "generally bright, clean and modern with air-conditioned assembly line areas".

Now, Foxconn tentacle Hong Fujin Precision Industrial, which operates the Shenzhen plant, has hit hack Wang You and editor Weng Bao with a lawsuit for repeating the allegations.

Reporters Without Borders' letter to Jobs explains the matter in detail:

Paris, 29 August 2006

Dear Mr. Jobs,

Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that defends press freedom throughout the world, urges you to intercede with your subcontractor in China, the Taiwanese company Foxconn, and get it to drop its lawsuit against reporter Wang You and editor Weng Bao of China Business News (Diyi Jingji Ribao).

These two journalists were responsible for an article on 15 June criticising work conditions at a Foxconn plant. At Foxconn’s request, the Shenzen intermediate people’s court froze their assets - apartments, bank accounts and cars - on 10 July. Foxconn then brought a lawsuit accusing them of “smearing its reputation” and demanding 30 million yuan (3 millions euros) in damages.

We know that Apple is already aware of this case. After the London-based Daily Mail newspaper ran a story about it on 11 June, your company reacted by investigating conditions at Foxconn’s plants and discovered that your supplier had indeed violated several aspects of your code of conduct, including those concerning the length of the working week and days off.

We believe than all Wang and Weng did was report the facts and we condemn Foxconn’s reaction. We therefore ask you to intercede on behalf of these two journalists so that their assets are unfrozen and the lawsuit is dropped.

We trust you will give this matter your careful consideration.

Sincerely,

Robert Ménard

Secretary-General

For its part, Foxconn has issued a statement in response to widespread coverage of its litigation. It reads:

1.Name of the reporting media: Xinhuanet, Sina, China Economic Times, Guangzhou Daily, BJ Youth, Nanfang Daily, The Beijing News and other domestic and international media, editors and journalists...

2.Date of the report:2006/08/29

3.Content of the report:

”...Foxconn sued China Business News reporters...”

4.Summary of the information provided by investors:NA

5.Company's explanation of the reportage or provided information:

Stern Public Announcement:

5.1. Regarding the June 15, 2006 malicious false article by two China Business News reporters, using erroneous information like "For every 1,000 new hires, 500 having pre-existing illness", Company seeks legal remedy only to defend our name and to force out the truth. We believe, under our circumstances, we have no other avenue to rectify the defamation damage other than thru court judgment.

5.2. To maintain and protect our employees' physical and mental wellbeing have long been Foxconn's highest guiding principle on social and environmental responsibility front; thus we had invited People's Hospital to set up branch operation in our campus, an extremely rare approach by any company worldwide. We firmly believe that Chinese youths are strong and fit and cannot be of 50 per cent having pre-existing illness. In fact, we have documented statistics to show how over 99 per cent of our employees are healthy and fit.

5.3. Reporters' work should be free from any prejudice and strive to present only the truth; this is any journalist's basic code of professional conduct and code of ethics, as he or she enjoys unfettered freedom for speech. We believe the article in question is the result of careless journalism, lacks even the minimum implied level of due diligence.

5.4. We firmly believe that journalist community virtually lives by high professional standard. However, of the minority who wrongfully abuses their so-called freedom of speech by spreading malicious false statements, we believe one must willfully and forcefully defend him- or her-self, to ensure the public is not being misled.

5.5. Of this entire episode, what the Company had asked for is simply the right to protect her reputation, to preserve the Chinese dignity. Any claim to us is more for its symbolic meaning than anything. We hereby solemnly announce that we will donate entire eventual compensation to non-profit organization for good cause.

5.6. This is purely a legal issue. We sincerely hope that it will not be misdirected by any exaggerated distortion. We hereby plead with the journalist community to seek out the truth, reporting without prejudice and respect the law. This is our humble wish and appeal.

Well, in the spirit of "unfettered freedom for speech", we'd like to suggest that if the allegations are unfounded, then Foxconn does indeed have a case for litigation. However, asking a court to seize journalists' assets - "apartments, bank accounts and cars" - smacks less of the preservation of Chinese dignity and more of a shameful abuse of a system in which journalistic freedom is pretty well non-existent. ®

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