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Foxconn answers critics over suicidal iPhone engineer

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Foxconn, a manufacturer of Apple's iPhone, has sought to deflect the firestorm of criticism that followed the suicide of a company engineer, Sun Danyong, who reported that an iPhone 4G prototype had gone missing.

According to The New York Times, Foxconn general manager James Lee said in an interview that "Several times [Sun] had some products missing, then he got them back. We don’t know who took the product, but it was at his stop."

As The Reg reported last week, the 25-year-old leapt to his death from his apartment's 12th story window after being questioned by Foxconn security chief Gu Qinming about the missing prototype - one of 16 such units that Sun had been entrusted with.

Sun reportedly told friends that the questioning had included a beating - a charge denied by Gu in an interview with the Southern Metropolis Daily. According to Gu, "I questioned him about [being present when the prototype went missing], but he did not answer. I became a little angry and grabbed his right shoulder to get him to reenact the situation. But he would not move."

Gu has since been suspended without pay pending an investigation by Chinese authorities.

Foxconn has faced charges of employee abuse before, notably in 2006 when the Mail on Sunday reported that the company, along with Asustek, forced employees to work more than 60 hours per week, packed them into dormitories with more than 100 workers per room, denied them visits from non-employees, and paid them a mere £27 per month.

In response to Sun's suicide, employee-rights watchdog China Labor Watch issued a statement decrying "Foxconn's inhumane and militant management system," which, CLW alleges, includes "beatings with iron bars and whips". CLW also darkly claims that "Sun Danyong's death [was not] the first suicide at Foxconn factory," but offers no details.

CLW also alleges that "Only workers producing for Apple are given a stool to sit while working, and all others must stand".

In response to the 2006 allegations, Apple reported that it "immediately dispatched an audit team comprised of members from our human resources, legal and operations groups to carry out a thorough investigation of the conditions at the manufacturing site".

After that investigation, Apple stated that "We found the supplier to be in compliance in the majority of the areas audited. However, we did find violations to our Code of Conduct, as well as other areas for improvement that we are working with the supplier to address."

Apple's response to Sun's suicide has been more muted. Cupertino's official statement is that "We are saddened by the tragic loss of this young employee, and we are awaiting results of the investigations into his death. We require our suppliers to treat all workers with dignity and respect."

Foxconn has not admitted culpability in Sun's suicide. It has, however, paid compensation to his family amounting to around $44,000, according to the NYT. The company also gave his girlfriend an Apple laptop.

After speaking with the family about the compensation payments, the NYT also reports that "a security guard, who was joined by two men wearing Foxconn shirts, threatened to 'beat up' a journalist's translator if she persisted in asking the family questions. According to The Times, Foxconn officials later said the guard was not on staff and that he might have been with the police bureau. ®

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