When the chips are down, profits mean more to ‘big industry’ ...

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When the chips are down, profits mean more to ‘big industry’ than lives

Relentless demand for the semiconductors turns deadly in Malaysia as firms push to keep supply chains running

Yoolim Lee and Yantoultra Ngui

Hani Bin Sha’ari spent more than two decades rising through the ranks at STMicroelectronics’s facility in Malaysia. He prided himself on working hard to provide for his wife and four children. So when the chip plant remained open through a spike in Covid-19 infections this year, he kept doing his job.

Then one July morning, the 43-year-old woke up with a fever. His wife Nancy took him to a local clinic, requesting a coronavirus test because of infections at the plant. The results came back positive. Hani was soon quarantined in a hospital. He lost so much weight he started avoiding video calls so he wouldn’t alarm his family. When the couple spoke by phone later, Hani was out of breath and she urged him to rest. It was their last conversation.  

Hani was one of at least 20 workers at STMicro’s facility in the Malaysian district of Muar who died from Covid-19, after the Delta variant raged through the country this year. The company kept its chip assembly and testing plant running while the virus was killing workers, as the company raced to meet surging demand from automakers and other customers. Authorities in Malaysia, as in many other countries, were concerned about keeping their economy on track during the pandemic and they granted chipmakers exemptions while much of the country was locked down...

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