iPhone suicide: is a phone worth dying for?

Opinion – Sun Danyong was 25 when he died after jumping from his 12th floor apartment in Shenzen, just outside Hong Kong.

He worked at Foxconn Technology’s factory making iPhones and killed himself after a prototype Apple phone went missing. He was responsible for shipping 16 iPhone samples to Apple in the US. On July 13, when one could not be accounted for, he reported its loss.

Foxconn security guards paid the man a visit at his home and carried out a thorough search. They deny that the employee was threatened or beaten, as alleged by local Chinese media, although the head of security has since been suspended and is being questioned by police.

An Apple spokesperson issued a brief statement: “We are saddened by the tragic loss of this young employee, and we are awaiting results of the investigations into his death,” adding that the company requires its suppliers to treat all workers with dignity and respect.

Let’s just step back and look at that again. Putting a few cellphones in a box and phoning DHL to arrange shipment wouldn’t normally be regarded as a high stress or high risk occupation, so why did Sun Danyong die?

Well, the finger of blame can be pointed at a number of groups. While Foxconn clearly has some way to go in terms of employee relations, the blame cannot rest solely with them. The company is, after all, merely a sub-contractor.

But the unnatural hype surrounding any Apple product, and the iPhone in particular, means that secrecy is given top priority to prevent the plethora of Apple fan and rumor sites from learning anything about a small box of plastic and electronics that has a shelf life of a mere three months before it is replaced by a shinier new model.

Apple famously only speaks to a chosen few reporters, who can be trusted to react with the required amount of shock and awe at the latest wonderment bearing the bitten fruit logo. Journalists attempting to publish leaked information are met with the full force of Apple’s legal department.

Apple remains tight-lipped about everything and insists that its suppliers do the same. This, of course, makes the Cult of Mac even more desperate to find out what Apple wants them to spend their money on next. Speculation and hype often reaches fever pitch.

This means there is unnatural pressure on everyone involved in developing and producing new products for Apple to do everything possible to keep everything under wraps until Steve Jobs bounds onto the stage waving the new product at an adoring crowd.

So, I put this simple question to Apple, Foxconn, every Apple fansite or publication and, indeed, every avid consumer of Apple products on the planet:

Do you honestly believe a cellphone is worth a single human life?

See also:
Foxconn employee commits suicide over loss of iPhone prototype