The Foxconn Chengdu factory has been the source of an unending well of bad press for the tech industry. In 2009, the suicide of Sun Danyong prompted worldwide concerns about worker conditions within the factory. While the company paid off Danyong's family and instituted new measures to prevent suicides, they were all unsuccessful. By this time last year, nine more workers had killed themselves.
Foxconn is used as the manufacturer for many hot mobile devices. The iPhone, iPod, iPad, and Kindle are just a few of their contracts. Dell, HP, Cisco, Nintendo, Nokia, Microsoft, Sony and many more well-known brands all have devices produced in Foxconn factories. Since the manufacturer is the largest private employer in China, the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people depends on their corporate policies.
It would be hard to overestimate how bad things are inside the Foxconn campus. Guards have been caught beating employees and some reports compare the Chengdu factory to a labor camp. Earlier this month the company started forcing workers to sign a pact agreeing not to commit suicide. It didn't seem likely that things could get much worse.
And then Foxconn's Chengdu factory exploded, killing two workers. The company was quick to state that the blast was not caused by human error. At this point, the most likely cause seems to be that dust on one of the factory floors was ignited. Since Foxconn is a critical part of the Chinese economy, it seems unlikely that the investigation will turn up anything negative about their safety procedures.
Two dead and sixteen injured in a workplace accident is a tragedy. But consumers are more likely to notice the (likely) delay in iPad 2 shipments. My hope is that this explosion will direct enough attention to conditions within the plant that meaningful positive changes will finally be made. Chances are, every person reading this has purchased a product made in that factory. We have a duty as responsible consumers and human beings to ensure the people making our products have a decent standard of living.