China: Apple subcontractor reduces libel damages claim

New York, August 31, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the decision today of an Apple Computer subcontractor in China to reduced its demand for punitive libel damages against two journalists who investigated alleged labor abuses. The company, which makes iPods in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, also asked a local court to unfreeze the journalists’ personal assets.

The company, a subsidiary of Foxconn Technology Co. Ltd of Taiwan, cut its demand for 30 million yuan (US$3.7 million) damages to a token 1 yuan (12 US cents) after pressure from media activists and bloggers, as well as Apple Computer in the United States. (see CPJ’s August 30 alert).

“We are pleased that Foxconn backed away from its suit,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “But the court’s decision to inflict such draconian punishments as the freezing of personal assets even before a trial, reflects the government’s willingness to serve powerful vested interests in China at the expense of a free media.”

“Such heavy-handed civil suits serve the same purpose as government persecution in stifling enterprising journalists,” Simon added.

The Intermediate People’s Court in Shenzhen had frozen the personal assets of the two journalists, reporter Wang You and editor Weng Bao of the Shanghai-based China Business News (Diyi Caijing Ribao).

The defamation suit followed a June 15 article alleging that workers at the Shenzhen plant were underpaid, forced to stand for long hours and to work 12-hour days. In an audit by Apple Computer after the article appeared, the U.S. company found evidence that Foxconn had violated its Supplier Code of Conduct including “overcrowding in some housing provided to workers, a complex pay structure overly relying on incentives, an outdated payroll system, over-worked employees and some instances of harsh treatment,” according to Apple’s online report on August 17.

But in July, Foxconn’s wholly owned subsidiary in Shenzhen, Hongfujin Precision Industry Co. filed for defamation damages of 20 million yuan from Wang, and 10 million yuan from his supervisor Weng.