The World’s Relentless Demand for Chips Turns Deadly in Malaysia

Before this year, no one worried too much about the global supply chain, beyond specialists in the field. The role of developing nations like Malaysia or the Philippines warranted little attention. From a report: But the coronavirus outbreak has been a wake-up call for chief executives, prime ministers and consumers around the world, as shortages disrupted production of everything from iPhones and F-150 pickups to Nike sneakers. The tragedy in Muar shows the little-understood human cost of keeping supply chains running in a pandemic. While politicians in Washington and Paris urge suppliers to step up production of semiconductors and government officials in countries like Malaysia give special exemptions to powerful corporations, employees like Hani put their lives at risk. The duty of the government is to look after the workers' interest more than the country's or the companies' interest," said Zaid Ibrahim, a former law minister in Malaysia. "Of the three -- the government, companies and workers -- the most vulnerable are the workers. I wish we could have avoided these tragedies." Malaysia is a case study in the conflict between people and profit. The government spent decades attracting foreign investment and diversifying its economy beyond rubber and tin. The country now accounts for 13% of the world's chip testing and packaging, a key step in producing the semiconductors that go into automobiles, smartphones and other devices. Some 575,000 people were employed in the electrical and electronics industry in 2020, working with global chipmakers such as STMicro, Infineon Technologies AG, Intel Corp. and Renesas Electronics.

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