IPod maker gets Chinese court to freeze assets of journalists

Two journalists in China are being pursued for 800 times their annual wage by a company that makes iPods on behalf of Apple. The action is a result of articles that claimed that the firm, Foxconn, mistreated workers.

Apple outsources the production of its electronics devices and has recently faced criticism over the working practices of the companies to which it gives its manufacturing business. Two journalists from the China Business News newspaper had investigated the working practices of Foxconn and had alleged that it mistreated workers. Foxconn is a subsidiary of Taiwanese manufacturing giant Hon Hai.

Journalist Wang You and editor Weng Bao are being sued for $3.8 million by Foxconn over a story relating to working practices there. The pair have been in negotiation with Foxconn for the past few weeks but it has now emerged that the company has persuaded a court to freeze the assets of Wang and Weng. The freeze applies to property, bank accounts and cars.

The move has been described as unusual by local legal observers, who say that a more common approach is to sue the company publishing the newspaper in cases against publishers such as libel or defamation.

The reports said that workers at Foxconn were coerced into working excessive overtime. Foxconn has previously denied similar charges.

Apple has recently come under significant pressure over working conditions in its outsourced factories. It produced a report earlier this month in which it said that though people there did work longer than the 60-hour maximum set in its code of conduct, it had not found evidence of coercion.

Foxconn has confirmed the existence of the suit but has not commented on why it is pursuing individuals rather than the newspaper publisher concerned, nor has it outlined what its objections to the original story are.

"The target of the suit is wrong and for the court to agree to accept it and to freeze accounts and assets is to add wrong to wrong," Wu Haimin, publisher of the Beijing Times newspaper, told the Financial Times. Wang told the FT that she had not yet even been told the basis of the lawsuit.