Another Dead Factory Worker for Key Apple Supplier: Does the Company Even Care?

What killed Tian Fulei?

Apple sold more than 10 million of the iPhone 6 in the first three days after its launch

Tian Fulei, a 26-year-old worker at a Chinese factory that makes the iPhone 6, was found dead in a dormitory on February 3. According to his family, Fulei had been working 12-hour days, seven days a week, during the months leading up to his death.

Fulei worked at Shanghai Pegatron, a major electronic supplier for Apple. Earlier this year, the New York City-based non-profit China Labor Watch (CLW) released a report detailing the company’s labor abuses. According to the report, workers typically put in 11-hour shifts for six days week and are paid $1.50 an hour. The employees are packed in 12-person dorms and if they don't complete three months of service at the company, the dispatch organization that got them hired will make a large deduction from their wages.

CLW investigators who carried out undercover sweeps of the factories counted 86 labor rights violations. After Pegatron became aware of a BBC expose that was being done on the company, it reduced weekly hours below 60, allowing Apple to tell the BBC that the weekly hour average was 55.

Fulei’s death was ruled sudden, but no autopsy was carried out, as his family are farmers in Shandong unable to afford any kind of independent investigation. Fulei’s sister, Tian Zhoumei, told Daily Mail Online that, “We heard a lot from him about overtime. The company is definitely at fault. He walked in there a healthy a registered employee he had to pass a full body test.He last called on the morning of February 1...I don't remember him saying anything about being sick but he said he worked an extra two to two-and-a-half hours every day. So, around 12 hours a day.”

Pegatron initially offered the family 15,000 yuan as a “gesture,” but that amount was bumped to 80,000 after an intervention by authorities.

Kevin Slaten, program coordinator at CLW, told me Fulei's death symbolizes conditions at Pegatron. “We have confirmed six deaths of Pegatron Shanghai workers since 2013,” said Slaten, “though we have heard of others. All of the deaths were abnormal in nature.”

Apple increased its orders to Pegatron factories in 2013, while flaunting its “Supplier Responsibility” code of conduct standards, despite the company’s abuses. “To reduce the occurrence of more tragedies like these, Apple should invest more in labor in order to reduce overtime hours, prevent mandatory overtime, and raise workers' wages,” says Slaten. Apple has refused to comment on Fulei’s death.


Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria