Foxconn accused of mistreating severely injured worker

Apple's iPhone supplier threatens to cut off hospital payments for an injured worker unless he travels 50 miles for an assessment. His poor health, however, make travel nearly impossible.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
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Foxconn operates factories in several Chinese cities, including two campuses in Shenzhen. This is the gate of one of the Shenzhen factories. Jay Greene/CNET

While fixing a spotlight high up on the wall of a Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China, Zhang Tingzhen was hit with a massive electric shock. According to Reuters, he fell 12 feet and suffered severe brain damage. Zhang, 26, has since undergone five operations and is still unable to leave the hospital.

Foxconn, however, is saying its time for him to go.

"Foxconn must bear responsibilities for the injuries," Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior project officer Debby Chan told CNET. "If there are adequate personal protective equipment and measures on the shop floor...the accident could be avoided."

This is just the latest in a string of incidents that have come to light regarding Foxconn's mistreatment of its employees. There have been employee suicides, explosions at two plants, and reports of harsh working conditions. Foxconn is Apple's largest contract manufacturer and is responsible for assembling the company's iPhones, iPads, Mac computers, and more.

According to Reuters, Foxconn said it is acting entirely within China's labor laws. The company has been paying Zhang's hospital bills since the accident but now says that he must go through a disability assessment to see if treatment is still necessary. The only way to do this, Foxconn says, is for Zhang to travel to where he was first hired by Foxconn, Huizhou, which is nearly 50 miles away. Zhang's family told Reuters that Foxconn has been sending them mobile text messages with threats to cut off his hospital care payments if he does not go.

Travel for Zhang, however, isn't possible. Half of his brain was removed after the accident and he still cannot speak or walk properly.

"The doctor told me they needed to monitor his condition and that for such serious injuries, a person was allowed to be treated in hospital for up to two years. After that, assessors can order treatment to be prolonged," Zhang's father told Reuters.

Foxconn told Reuters that Zhang could return to the Shenzhen hospital for more treatment after the assessment, if necessary. However, under China's workers compensation system, the type of insurance payouts for treatment differs from city to city. Apparently Shenzhen has a much higher cost, while Huizhou is low -- this is why Foxconn wants Zhang to travel, his family said.

"Foxconn is ruthless to pressure the victim to leave the hospital," Chan said. "Zhang Tingzhen was hired by Foxconn's factory in Huizhou. However, he was working in the Shenzhen plant when the accident happened. The compensation standard in Huizhou is lower. And Foxconn insisted that Zhang only deserves the compensation level in Huizhou."

According to Foxconn, the difference between the insurance payouts in Huizhou and Shenzhen will not make a difference in Zhang's case.

"Companies in China are mandated to buy insurance for employees directly through the government social insurance program, so the company does not benefit from the employee receiving a lower compensation or from the employee getting his assessment in a location with lower compensation," a Foxconn spokesperson told CNET. "As the insurance compensation provided by the government varies between locations, Foxconn has assured the family that it will voluntarily make up for any difference in compensation that is paid out from the social insurance in Huizhou versus Shenzhen where his injuries were sustained. While this is not required by law, we are doing this because we believe it is in the best interest of Mr. Zhang."

Foxconn also issued a statement saying that it had no intention of stopping Zhang's medical care and that it will continue to pay for his needs "beyond what the government medical insurance will cover even after the Assessment." Additionally, Foxconn said it will pay for private transportation for Zhang, his family, and medical personnel to travel to the assessment.

"We have also been discussing with relevant government departments the possibility of Mr. Zhang completing the Assessment in Shenzhen given the circumstances of his case," Foxconn said in the statement. "Foxconn takes the health and safety of our 1.2 million employees in China very seriously and we believe the provision of all medical costs for Mr. Zhang and the payment of living costs for he and his family has been fair and consistent with that commitment."

CNET contacted Apple for comment. We'll update the story when we get more information.

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Updated October 15 at 10:05 p.m. PT with comment from Foxconn spokesperson and information from Foxconn statement.