Latest news reports on the Foxconn suicides

China Labour Bulletin is quoted in the following articles and broadcasts. Copyright remains with the original publisher and broadcaster.

LA Times: Suicides roil factory in China
Time Magazine: Chinese Factory Under Scrutiny as Suicides Mount
Bloomberg: Hon Hai’s Gou Tackles Taint of Worker Suicides With Plant Tours
Financial Times: Chief acts as death toll rises at Foxconn
Daily Telegraph: Protest at Chinese iPad maker Foxconn after 11th suicide attempt this year
Christian Science Monitor: Why have suicides spiked at Apple iPad supplier Foxconn in China?
Radio Australia: Nine suicides at Taiwanese factory in China
RTHK Radio 3: Backchat.

Suicides roil factory in China

By Barbara Demick and David Sarno, Los Angeles Times
May 26, 2010
Reporting from Beijing and Los Angeles
Psychologists and Buddhist monks have come to console workers. There is a suicide hotline, piped-in music and a stress-release center where workers are invited to hit a punching bag with a picture of their supervisor.

But so far, nothing and nobody have been able to stop the suicides at Foxconn Technology Group, which manufactures Apple's iPhones as well as Dell and Hewlett-Packard components in Shenzhen in southern China.

The latest worker to commit suicide jumped to his death Tuesday. He was a 19-year-old identified as Li Hai, a migrant from Hunan province who had worked for the company just 42 days. He was the ninth worker at the Shenzhen facility to jump to his death this year. Another Foxconn worker committed suicide in northern China, and two others in Shenzhen survived falls.

A flotilla of social scientists, sociologists, psychologists and other experts — many of them affiliated with Beijing's Tsinghua University, where Foxconn endowed a nanotechnology center — were convening in Shenzhen on Wednesday for a meeting on how to stop the suicides. Terry Gou, the chief executive of Foxconn's parent company, Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry, cut short a meeting in Taipei, the Taiwanese capital, and was flying to Shenzhen after news of the latest death.

"This guy is stressed out. They are scared," said Peng Kaiping, a social psychologist from Tsinghua who met over the weekend with Gou. "He kept asking me, 'What can we do?' "

The deaths have triggered a debate about whether they are an epidemic of mass hysteria — each new suicide copying the death of the last — or a form of social protest. The deaths spotlight the pressure felt by a new generation of employees to work harder and make more money to keep up with China's dizzying pace of growth.

All of the workers who killed themselves were recent high school or vocational school graduates, ages 18 to 24. The group of men and women sometimes worked from 4 a.m. until late at night, often putting in extra shifts to earn overtime.

Foxconn, the world's largest maker of computer components, employs about 300,000 people at Shenzhen's Longhua Science & Technology Park, where most of the suicides took place. Most of the workers come from out of town and live in dormitories inside the compound.

The cluster of suicides is especially unnerving because it comes after a string of attacks on elementary school children that has left more than 20 people dead since mid-March. Peng said that both are "copycat cases by people with misguided ideas about social justice." He said, however, that the suicides showed that "China is reaching a critical point where it cannot develop as it once did, taking advantage of cheap labor and not paying attention to workers' rights."

Foxconn released results this month of a study saying the suicide rate at its Shenzhen facility was no higher than China's annual average of 14 cases per 100,000 people, but that the company was nevertheless concerned.

Labor experts said Foxconn's conditions are not so different from those of other Chinese factories.

"I'm not going to condemn Foxconn for appalling conditions because there are certainly worse places to work in China. The pay is basic, they do pay overtime according to the proper rates, and they pay social insurance. The work environment is clean and the food is not too bad," said Geoffrey Crothall of the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin. "But there is a peculiar dynamic. The company is obsessed with security, and I must say that, from the outside, the place looks like a prison."

Foxconn is a major supplier to Apple. In July, a 25-year-old worker who was under investigation for losing the prototype of a new iPhone killed himself. He alleged in text messages written shortly before his death that he was beaten and humiliated in the course of the investigation.

For its part, Apple says it requires its suppliers to adhere to a detailed code of conduct to protect workers' safety, including a limit of 60 work hours per week, including overtime. The company, which says it takes corrective action when it finds substandard workplace conditions, audited more than 100 of its production facilities in 2009, according to a report it released in February.

However, that report also showed that more than half of the 102 partner facilities audited had violated Apple's policy by working staff more than 60 hours a week on average. Apple also found that employees at 65 of the facilities were often working more than six days in a row.

Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said the company was "saddened and upset by the recent suicides at Foxconn."

"We are in direct contact with Foxconn senior management and we believe they are taking this matter very seriously," she said. "A team from Apple is independently evaluating the steps they are taking to address these tragic events."

At Dell, a spokesman said the company was investigating the suicide reports and that the company would take action if it detected poor working conditions at Foxconn.

A representative from Hewlett-Packard noted that "HP vigorously investigates concerns about our suppliers' practices" and is looking into the Foxconn reports specifically.

Analysts said Apple isn't Foxconn's biggest client, but it is the most prominent. That may mean problems at Foxconn's facilities could wind up on Apple's doorstep more frequently.

"They can't be happy about it," said Andy Hargreaves, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities. "They promote themselves as far as being forward thinking in terms of conscience — and this is damaging to their reputation along those lines."

But, he added, there are very few manufacturing firms capable of producing phones at the rate Apple requires to satisfy demand. The company sold 8.75 million iPhones in the last quarter alone.

"If you want to build a lot of handsets and you want them to be competitively priced," Hargreaves said, "you don't have a lot of options."

A reporter for the hard-hitting Southern Weekly who spent 28 days working undercover in the factory said the young employees rarely stop working except to eat and sleep, and that they need to put in grueling extra hours to supplement their monthly wage of $130.

The reporter, Liu Zhiyi, said the workers would sometimes stand for eight hours. "If you don't work overtime, you don't make money," Liu wrote. "But if you take the overtime, the fatigue will make your whole body feel the pain."

Struggling to stop the suicides, the company this month brought in a team of counselors and psychiatrists, as well as Buddhist monks to dispel bad spirits. A hotline was set up with the telephone number 78585, which when pronounced in Mandarin Chinese sounds like "Please help me." Employees were offered rewards of $30 to report coworkers who might be suicidal. A room was set up with a punching bag that features portraits of managers to help the employees release anger, and last week managers began piping music into work areas.

And netting has been strung between the high-rise dormitories to catch anybody who tries to jump.

Chairman Gou said in an interview with Taiwanese television this week that "Foxconn is not a sweatshop that only goes after money and doesn't care about people's lives."

The company did not respond to a request for an interview.

The suicides have been a public relations disaster for Foxconn, with one prominent blogger quipping that the company should change its website to Some have urged a boycott of its products. In Hong Kong, about 30 protesters holding up mock iPhones demonstrated outside Foxconn's offices urging better rights for workers.

In a report released Tuesday titled "Dying Young: Suicide & China's Booming Economy," the Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, which organized the protest, attributed the suicides to the gap between expectations and reality for the new generation of migrant workers.

The report said the workers came from farming families with aspirations of living the Chinese dream in the city, but they soon realized that dream was impossible.

An 18-year-old woman from Jiangxi province, who survived a jump from the seventh story of her dormitory when a tree broke her fall, was quoted as saying she was "under work pressure."

When she jumped she had only about $2.30 in her pocket and was in debt to a friend. "I [was] running into deep [financial] problems," she said.

Labor expert Crothall agreed that younger workers have much higher expectations than their parents.

From the Foxconn factory, he said, the workers "can get on a bus and go to glitzy shopping malls and see people their own age driving BMWs and carrying Louis Vuitton handbags."

Not to mention using iPhones.

Demick reported from Beijing and Sarno from Los Angeles. Nicole Liu and Tommy Yang of The Times' Beijing Bureau contributed to this report.
Chinese Factory Under Scrutiny as Suicides Mount
By Austin Ramzy / Beijing Wednesday, May. 26, 2010

The massive Foxconn factory in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen is known for assembling famous electronic goods like Apple's iPhone and iPad. But in recent months it has gained a darker image, as a place where distraught workers regularly throw themselves to their deaths. The latest fatality came on Tuesday morning, when a 19-year-old employee died in a fall in the company's Shenzhen compound, according to the state-run Xinhua news service. He was the ninth worker this year to have died in a fall from factory buildings on Foxconn's properties in Shenzhen; two have survived suicide attempts, according to state-media reports. Another teenager, who the company revealed this month died after jumping from a company building in Hebei province in January, brings the total employee death toll from falls to 10 this year.

The string of deaths has drawn attention to the labor practices of a highly successful Fortune 500 company that has 420,000 workers on its payroll in Shenzhen alone. Two dozen activists protested outside the company's Hong Kong offices on Tuesday, calling on Foxconn to improve working conditions and raise wages. The Taiwan-owned company, which is an arm of the Hon Hai Group, has defended the treatment of its workers. "A lot of things cannot be said at this point, but we are quietly doing our job," CEO Terry Gou told a business forum on Monday. With over 900,000 employees globally in the Hon Hai Group, Gou acknowledged the difficulties of employee management. "But," he said, "we are confident we will get things under control shortly." (See portraits of Chinese workers.)

Working conditions at Foxconn's factories have been under scrutiny for years. The attention was heightened in 2009 when 25-year-old employee Sun Danyong, who had been accused by management of losing an iPhone prototype, jumped to his death from his apartment in Shenzhen. Chinese press reports said Sun, who grew up in a poor village in Yunnan province and attended the top-rated Harbin Institute of Technology, might have been physically abused by company security guards searching for the missing device.

Like Sun, the Foxconn workers who died this year have all been young, ranging in age from 18 to 24. The cases all differ, but there are common themes. "They feel a sense of pressure — pressure to make more money, pressure to work harder, pressure from family or difficulties in personal relationships," says Geoffrey Crothall, an editor for the China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong–based workers rights' group. Experts say suicides can happen in clusters, with people in a group influenced by earlier incidents. (See pictures of China's internal migrants.)

The dead have all been migrant workers, and for many Foxconn was their first job. The company pays most of its assembly-line workers in Shenzhen the city's minimum wage of $130 a month, and many work significant overtime hours in order to maximize their incomes. "The work [at Foxconn] is long, monotonous and boring," says Liu Kaiming, a labor researcher and executive director of the Shenzhen-based Institute of Contemporary Observation. "The speed is very fast and you can't slow down, for 10 hours a day at the minimum. You can see how someone could easily become numb and turn into a machine."

After hours, many workers live in on-site dormitories, where heavy staff turnover makes long-lasting personal connections impossible. That combination — long workdays and a minimal social safety net — leaves vulnerable young workers with few places to turn, says Liu. "Foxconn has 420,000 people; in the U.S. that would be a big city. Even in China that would be a big city, but it's a city without any families. Everyone is working. They live in a dormitory for seven months and don't know their own roommates' names." (Read about the Chinese worker.)

In 1999, the most recent year for which numbers are available, China reported its national suicide rate was 13 men and 14.8 women out of every 100,000 people. That would put the suicide rate at Foxconn below that of the population as a whole, though a lack of newer statistics makes a comparison difficult. Suicides at factories in southern China have not been uncommon over the past decade, says Liu, but in recent years improvements in telecommunications like the proliferation of mobile phones have made it easier for workers to disseminate information about deaths. And given the size and prominence of Foxconn, and its famous clients such as Apple, Sony, HP and Dell, the suicides at its Shenzhen manufacturing center have earned the company significant unwanted attention in recent weeks.

Foxconn says it has provided social options like libraries and sports for its workers, and recently has prevented many more attempted suicides. But labor activists argue it needs to make more fundamental changes, like paying higher wages so that workers don't feel forced to work so many overtime hours.

In mid-May the Chinese newspaper Southern Weekend ran a story by a young reporter who spent a month working undercover at the factory. Liu Zhiyi wrote that the workers all dreamed of wealth, but felt that they had few opportunities outside the company. The workplace wasn't a sweatshop, Liu wrote, but the assembly-line work slowly dehumanized the employees. "It seems as if while they operate the machines, the machines also operate them," the story said. "Parts flow by, and their youth is worn down to the rhythm of the machines."

With reporting by Jessie Jiang / Beijing

Hon Hai’s Gou Tackles Taint of Worker Suicides With Plant Tours

By Tim Culpan

May 26 (Bloomberg) -- Hon Hai Group, which assembles Apple Inc.’s iPhones, will hold an unprecedented tour of its largest manufacturing complex today after nine suicides in China prompted the company to defend its working conditions.

Billionaire Chairman Terry Gou, who founded Taipei-based Hon Hai in 1974, will lead the tour of the Longhua factory in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen to help the media “come and understand the situation,” he said yesterday. Hon Hai, also known as Foxconn Technology Group, employs about 800,000 workers in China making products for customers including Apple and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Hon Hai’s move highlights the scrutiny the company is facing because of the suicides, according to UBS AG analyst Arthur Hsieh. The deaths led labor-rights groups to say this month that Hon Hai is a sweatshop that “tramples” workers’ rights and consumers should avoid buying the iPhone.

“This has never been seen before, it’s really unusual times,” said Hsieh, who has a “buy” stock rating for Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., the world’s largest contract manufacturer of electronics. “It’s crisis control.”

There have been nine suicides and two attempts at the China operations this year, a Hon Hai official said yesterday, declining to be identified.

At least four of the deaths occurred this month; among them was a worker who died from injuries after falling from a company dormitory on May 14. Three days earlier, a 24-year-old worker jumped to her death from an apartment block in Shenzhen, according to Hon Hai statements.

Direct Contact

“We’re in direct contact with Foxconn senior management and we believe they are taking this matter very seriously,” said Steve Dowling, an Apple spokesman. “A team from Apple is independently evaluating the steps they are taking to address these tragic events and we will continue our ongoing inspections of the facilities where our products are made.”

HP is investigating “the Foxconn practices that may be associated with these tragic events,” the Palo Alto, California- based computer maker said in an email.

While Hon Hai declined to provide statistics on worker deaths in previous years, it said a 25-year-old employee killed himself by jumping off his dormitory on July 16, 2009, after one of the 16 iPhone prototypes he was assigned to mail went missing. Apple said at the time that it was “saddened by the tragic loss.”

China, where most of the world’s computers, mobile phones and consumer electronics products are assembled, has a suicide rate of 16.9 per 100,000 according to 2004 World Health Organization estimates.


Foxconn is a sweatshop that “tramples” workers’ personal values for the sake of efficiency, Li Qiang, executive director of New York-based China Labor Watch, wrote in a May 21 statement.

Gou on May 24 said his company isn’t a sweatshop and is confident the situation will improve after Hon Hai hired counselors and opened help-lines to support workers.

While suicides aren’t limited to Hon Hai, the case highlights the need for companies across China to improve the quality of life for factory workers, Geoffrey Crothall, communications director at Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, said this month.

Six Huawei Technologies Co. employees died by suicide or under mysterious circumstances from 2007 to 2008, China Labour Bulletin wrote on May 27, 2008. Ross Gan, spokesman for Huawei, said staff had committed suicide in past years, while declining to provide details.

Sharing the Blame

Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, a Hong Kong-based organization that monitors corporations, said Apple should share the blame because it hires contract manufacturers such as Hon Hai to make its products.

“We will ask consumers when the new iPhone comes out not to buy the product,” Debby Chan, a project officer at the organization, said yesterday. “What we can do is inform the public about what kind of conditions the workers have, and let consumers choose whether they want to buy further products which are produced in such working conditions.”

Hon Hai assembles most of its electronics in Shenzhen, north of Hong Kong. The city, home to network-equipment makers Huawei and ZTE Corp., was China’s first Special Economic Zone, with incentives and administrative privileges dedicated to developing the country’s exports and attracting foreign investment.

Taiwan’s largest company by sales, doesn’t provide sales breakdowns, hold investor conferences or give financial guidance.

“Investors care about what the company is doing about it and whether it’ll affect orders,” Hsieh said. “It’s probably not something that will change the overall earnings outlook.”

--With assistance from Connie Guglielmo in San Francisco. Editor: Young-Sam Cho, Jonathan Annells

Chief acts as death toll rises at Foxconn

By Kathrin Hille in Beijing and Robin Kwong in Taipei

May 25 2010

Terry Gou, founder and chairman of Hon Hai, the Taiwanese parent company of Foxconn, rushed to Shenzhen on Tuesday in an attempt to deal with the crisis from a continuing string of suicides among workers.

Mr Gou invited the media to a press conference on Wednesday at Foxconn’s Longhua plant and said he would help them better understand the situation.

The move came after another employee at the plant died after falling off a building on Tuesday morning. Shenzhen police confirmed the death but said they were still investigating whether it was suicide. Nine people have died this year in the series of incidents among workers, while there have been two failed suicide attempts.

Foxconn is the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, making devices for leading global electronics brands.

Labour activists in Hong Kong have threatened to start a campaign for a boycott of Apple’s iPhone, one of the many electronic devices made by the 300,000 workers at the Shenzhen plant. Workers are paid the minimum wage and regularly work heavy overtime.

However, psychiatrists say the suicides cannot be explained as a simple consequence of labour conditions at Foxconn. “At least, here’s a company that’s doing something about it,” said Michael Phillips, director of the Suicide Research and Prevention Center at Shanghai Mental Health Center and a professor at Emory University School of Medicine.

He pointed to Foxconn’s moves to set up new counselling and early warning systems. He also said the suicides appeared to have a strong imitation factor.

But labour activists called for more decisive action from the company. “The wages of these workers should be raised to decent levels so they won’t feel they need to rely on overtime,” said Geoffrey Crothall of China Labour Bulletin. “That would give them time to socialise, relax and work through whatever issues they have.”

Betty Chan of Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour said her group was in touch with activists in Europe over an international boycott campaign against the iPhone from next month.

Female workers on one production line at the plant told the Financial Times during a factory visit last week that they earned Rmb1,800 to Rmb1,900 ($263-$278) a month, working 12 hours a day with a two-hour lunch break.

Foxconn’s total workforce in China numbers 800,000.

Mr Gou made his first public response to the crisis on Sunday. “We are definitely not a sweatshop,” he said. “At this stage we can only quietly do our job and not make any comments about this issue. So we will do our best” to improve the situation, Mr Gou said.

“A manufacturing team of 800,000 people is not easy to manage,” he added.

Protest at Chinese iPad maker Foxconn after 11th suicide attempt this year

By Malcolm Moore in Shanghai
Protestors from SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate
Misbehaviour)  burn effigies of Apple products during a demonstration
near the offices of Foxconn in Hong Kong over the deaths of 11 workers.
Protestors from SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour) burn effigies of Apple products during a demonstration near the offices of Foxconn in Hong Kong over the deaths of 11 workers. Photo: Getty

Li Hai, a 19-year-old man from the central province of Hunan, fell to his death from the roof of a dormitory building at Foxconn's Longhua factory on Tuesday morning, leaving the world's largest electronics manufacturer in crisis.

A spate of recent suicides at Foxconn has highlighted the concerns over working conditions inside the giant Longhua factory, where 300,000 workers assemble goods for clients including Apple, Sony, Nintendo, Dell and Nokia.

The deaths comes as Apple prepares to launch the iPad in the UK at the end of this week. Yesterday, Apple declined to comment on the situation.

The Longhua factory is the biggest in the world and is responsible for over 20pc of the annual exports emerging from Shenzhen, the one-time fishing village that has become one of the capitals of the world's manufacturing industry.

In the lobby of Foxconn's headquarters in Hong Kong, a group of around two dozen protestors laid mannequins to rest and conducted funeral rites. "We are staging the protest because of the high death rate [at Foxconn], with an abnormal number of workers committing suicide in the past five months," said Debby Chan, a spokesman for the Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour group.

The latest death comes just a day after Foxconn admitted that it had paid "insufficient attention" to the well-being of its workers and promised to hire over 2,000 therapists to offer counselling to its factory workers.

"We are not a sweatshop," said Terry Gou, 59, who founded Foxconn in 1974. "We are doing a lot every day and we are confident the situation will soon stabilise. A manufacturing team of 800,000 people is very difficult to manage."

Mr Gou is heading to the factory and will hold a press conference on Wednesday.

Although the number of suicides is statistically in line with the Chinese average for young people, the rate of cases appears to be gathering speed.

China has been transfixed by the problems at one of its prize companies, and security camera footage of one suicide victim, a 24-year-old woman named Zu Chengmin, walking unsteadily out onto the roof of a Foxconn building on her way to her death was aired on the main news bulletins.

The latest death came just a few days after an unnamed 21-year-old male worker fell from the top of a four-floor building at Longhua, and ten days since two other colleagues also fell from buildings at the plants. In addition, Foxconn has said that it has managed to prevent a further 20 attempts this year.

"You cannot compare the situation with the national average suicide rate," said Jin Shenghua, a professor of psychology at Beijing Normal University who was flying down to advise the company on the situation yesterday.

"When the rate of suicide jumps rapidly it is alarming. You can only compare this with the situation in other similar factories".

Questions are also being raised about the sustainability of China's manufacturing model, which has relied on enormous scale, an endless pool of labour, and long hours to achieve its competitive advantage.

"[The deaths] force us to question the future of the 'factory of the world' and the new generation of migrant workers," according to nine Chinese social sciences professors in an open letter to Foxconn last week.

"This new generation of workers is better-educated, has higher dreams, more thoughts, and can feel greater suffering," said broadcasters on the state-run CCTV.

"The previous generation only thought about how to improve the lives of their family, the younger generation starts to think about themselves more."

It added that workers at Foxconn, faced with 12-hour days, seven days a week, are less able to "chi ku", or "eat bitterness", than hardbitten older workers.

Lu Xin, a 24-year-old university graduate who committed suicide on May 6, wrote in his diary: "I came to this company for money, [but then I realised] this is wasting my life, my future. I made a mistake even at the first step of my adult life. I am lost."

A reporter for Southern Weekend newspaper, who spent 28 days undercover on the production line at Longhua, said that workers dreamed of improving their lives, but were faced with low wages, a sense of alienation in the vastness of the factory, and few friends among the transient population of fellow employees.

According to Foxconn's own figures, 5pc of its workers at Longhua, or 15,000 people, quit each month.

"It is not just Foxconn, it is the whole factory system. Obviously the focus is now on Foxconn and every new death will be reported, but there are other suicides in other factories and the owners hush it up and pay the families quietly and no one will ever know about it," said Geoffrey Crothall, at China Labour Bulletin, a workers' rights NGO in Hong Kong.

He suggested the problems at Foxconn had partly been because of the size of Longhua, and partly because the plant is just 30 minutes away from Shenzhen, where workers can envy at people of their own age driving luxury cars and carrying the iPhones they themselves make, but cannot afford.

"The response from Foxconn so far has been superficial. A concrete solution would be to raise the wages by 50pc or even 100pc. These workers are coming to Foxconn not just to survive, but to make their lives better," he said.

Last Monday, Hon Hai Precision, Foxconn's parent company, announced net profits of 18bn new Taiwan dollars (NTD) for the first quarter (£397m), a rise of 34.8pc year-on-year. Yesterday, however, the company's share price sank 5pc to NTD126.

Why have suicides spiked at Apple iPad supplier Foxconn in China?

By Peter Ford, Staff Writer / May 25, 2010


A spate of suicides among Chinese workers making the Apple iPad, Sony Ericsson phones, and other electronic items has drawn fresh attention to working conditions in the factories supplying consumers worldwide with must-have gadgets.

At 6.20 on Tuesday morning, 19-year-old migrant worker Li Hai threw himself to his death from the roof of a building at electronics manufacturer Foxconn in the southern boom town of Shenzhen. He was the ninth company employee to kill himself this year. Two other would-be suicides have survived their injuries.

Foxconn’s massive complex, employing more than 400,000 people, has a reputation for strict discipline, says Geoffrey Crothall, spokesman for the Hong Kong based “ China Labour Bulletin,” which monitors working conditions in China. “It’s a tough place to be and you have to be tough to survive.”

Terry Gou, founder of Foxconn’s Taiwanese parent company Hon Hai Precision Industry, insisted Monday that his firm does not run “a blood and sweat factory.”

By Chinese standards, Foxconn is not a bad employer. The company pays social security contributions for its employees, offers cheap housing and food, and pays overtime at the legal rate. It has no difficulty attracting young migrant workers from the countryside.

Company officials, professing bafflement at the recent suicides, recently took reporters on a tour of the newly built dormitories and swimming pools that Foxconn offers its workers.

But a report in the respected “Southern Weekly” newspaper in Guangzhou, China, earlier this month, written by an intern who spent a month working undercover at Foxconn, painted a grim picture of alienation.

Workers are required to stand at fast-moving assembly lines for eight hours without a break and without talking, the journalist reported. Workers, sharing sleeping accommodations with nine other workmates, often do not know each others’ names.

They do not have much time to get to know each other. The basic starting pay of 900 RMB ($130) a month – barely enough to live on – can be augmented to a more respectable 2,000 RMB ($295) only by working 30 hours overtime a week.

“Today’s migrant workers have higher expectations than their parents, but reality has not changed,” says Liu Kaiming, a workers’ rights advocate with the Institute for Contemporary Observation in Shenzhen. “They cannot bridge the gap between their dreams and reality.”

The string of suicides this year at Foxconn “is not all that shocking in terms of numbers,” since it is “not grossly abnormal” compared with the national suicide rate, according to Michael Phillips, head of the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center and the leading foreign authority on suicide in China. He puts the national suicide rate at about 15 per 100,000, based on incomplete data. By comparison, the US rate is 11 per 100,000.

The episode has drawn widespread attention in the local press, however, because of Foxconn’s work for Apple, says Mr. Crothall. The company’s Taiwanese origins may also be a factor, he suggests, pointing to the way that the state-run news agency Xinhua and official Communist party organ the People’s Daily have been out front in the reporting of the suicides.

The company has taken a number of steps to try to halt the suicides, ranging from setting up a helpline and offering rewards to employees who point out their colleagues’ unusual behavior to hiring counselors and bringing in Buddhist priests to exorcise the factory and pacify the spirits of those who died.

Dr. Phillips, however, worries that a copy-cat effect has set in, with each suicide prompting another, which will be hard to break.

In the longer term, argues Mr. Liu, companies such as Foxconn “must be encouraged to make their factories places with social networks, with sentiment, where people feel they can fit in.”

Crothall believes the solution might be simpler. “If you raised basic wages to a decent level workers would not feel the need to do excessive overtime,” he suggests. “Then they would have more time to socialize, to be with their friend and just generally to have a life, which at the moment they don’t have.”

Nine suicides at Taiwanese factory in China

May 25, 2010 

The death toll from suicide by workers at Taiwanese company operating in China has risen to nine. Just today another young man threw himself from a building at Foxconn's large factory in Zhengzhen. Its the second suicide at the site in a week. Foxconn is the world's largest maker of consumer electronics, including Apple's iPhone. Protestors demonstrated outside the company's Hong Kong office as labour activists demand the company and the Chinese government do more to prevent the deaths.

Presenter: Karon Snowdon
Speaker: Geoffrey Crothall from the China Labour Bulletin

SNOWDON: Nine suicides plus two unsuccessful attempts in less than six month's at one company. Its a record that any company would hate - but we don't know what Foxconn thinks because they didn't answer our enquiries. Several workers at the factory spoke to China's CCTV.

WORKER 1: (Translation): Foxconn's management is totally inhumane. The personal quality and attitude of the lower management a are very low.

WORKER 2: (Translation): To put it a bit more bluntly it feels like mistreatment, they don't regard the workers as humans.

SNOWDON: Thsi particular factory employs over 300-thousand, most between the ages of 18 and 24, who work and live far from home in a dormitory complex. Geoffrey Crothall from the Hong Kong based workers rights group, the China Labour Bulletin, has previously spoken to some of them.

He says Foxconn isn't the worst employer in China but has some of the characteristics of many companies.

CROTHALL: They feel isoltae and alone and there's alot pres on them to work very hard. Not only from work but from their fam and their own expetat you know they came to the city with adram of earnign enough for a decent life.

SNOWDON: Is there opther cond that pioin t to other condi that F shoukld be rectifying?

CROTHALL: I think one of the issues is Foxconn's obsession with security. It has reportedly one of the largest private security firms guarding the premises. And I think this contributes to the sense of oppression and control that many of the young workers feel.

SNOWDON: With the news of the latest death, protesters outside Foxconn's Hong Kong office demanded the company safeguard workers' rights and dignity.

Foxconn is part of the Tawain company Hon Hai Precision, the world's largest contract assembler of consumer electronics such as games and mobile phones. Its described as one of China's biggest exporters and made almost 670 million US dollars net profit in the first quarter this year. It pays its workers the minimum wage of around 900 yuan or about 130 dollars a month.

It employs 800-thousand workers world-wide most of them in China to supply companies like Sony, Dell, Helwett -Packard and Apple.

In 2006, Chinese journalists working undercover exposed after long hours, low pay, poor conditions and one claim of beating by security guards. Apple - fearing a backlash on its sales, insisted Foxconn allow the workers to join a trade union.

Geoffrey Crothall says that often makes no difference in China.

CROTHALL: I think the basic thing that Foxconn management itself has to do is a very simple thing - raise the wages of its frontline workers. Because their basic wage is less than 1,000 yuan a month and so they have to work overtime and its the feeling that they have to work these 12 hour days that certainly isn't helping the situation. You know they can just work 40 hour weeks and then they have time off to work through whatever problems they do have

SNOWDON: Foxconn's website has no mention of the spate of suicides.

It has placed its 66 page statement of Social and Environmental responsibility prominently on the front page.

It contains many statements on the company's duty of care including this : "Our philosophy is to nurture our employees and provide them with equal opportunities to grow their careers within our company." it says.

The company founder and President, Terry Gou broke his silence on Monday, telling reporters Foxconn was quote "not running blood and sweat factories." and that the situation would stabilise soon.

In April the Shenzhen Municipal Federation of Trade Unions published the results of its investigation into the six suicides at that time.

It said Foxconn had not breached any laws but needed to improve the care of its employees.

RTHK Radio 3

On 25 May, Radio 3's Backchat discussed the Foxconn issue.
Interview starts at 09.23 on RTHK media player
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