IPad manufacturer Foxconn shuts Chinese plant after fatal explosion

Foxconn Technology Group, the maker of Apple Inc.'s iPhones and iPads, has shut down the plant where an explosion Friday killed three workers and injured 15 others.

The company said that within a week, it expects to complete a safety inspection of the facility in the southwest Chinese city of Chengdu before resuming operations. It said suspending operations for a week would not affect supply of the Apple devices because it has a week's worth of inventory.

Preliminary findings suggested that the blast was caused by combustible dust in one of the facility's polishing workshops, the company said in a news release.

Foxconn, the world's largest contract manufacturer, assembles many Apple products, including the iPhone 4 and iPad 2.

Foxconn's factory base in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen was the site of about a dozen suicides last year that were blamed on draconian working conditions. Workplace hazards were also reported at the site of Friday's explosion.

"Workers told us that the polishing department windows were shut and there was aluminum dust floating in the air," said Cheng Yi Yi of the Hong Kong-based Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior. "The facility wasn't even completed. There were prime conditions for an accident."

The company had been under pressure from both the Chinese government and its contract customers to improve conditions after the spate of suicides. Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook inspected Foxconn's Shenzhen facilities during a visit last June.

The Chengdu factory opened in October and is part of a push by Foxconn to move manufacturing to China's interior, where wages are about one-third lower than in the more urbanized south.

"In Chengdu and Chongqing, the pace of growth is palpable," said Duncan Clark, chairman of Beijing research firm BDA China Ltd., referring to another major city in the area. "Officials are all chasing trophies of growth and [foreign direct investment]."

A May 6 report by Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior claimed that the Chengdu complex was opened prematurely and that much of the area was still a construction site. It was officially opened by Terry Gou, Foxconn's chief operating officer, only 76 days after construction began.

Families seeking more information about relatives working at the factory have had their requests denied by Foxconn, the state-owned Global Times reported Monday.

Also, a New China News Agency reporter had his camera taken away by three men in traffic police uniforms and his video was destroyed, the paper reported.

business@latimes.com

Bloomberg News was used in compiling this report.

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