China: Wave of suicides at Foxconn’s Shenzhen plant: alienating work

world | May 26, 2010 | By Asia News

Beijing – A 19-year-old man who jumped to his death from the 5th floor of his dormitory is the latest suicide among workers at the Foxconn plant in Longhua (Shenzhen), the ninth since the start of the year. Today, Terry Gou, founder and president of the Foxconn Technology Group, opened the doors of his company to journalists to respond to criticism from media and the authorities.

Li Hai, a young graduate from Human, had been working for Foxconn for only 42 days. Eyewitnesses saw him jump. A suicide note found in his dormitory said there was a huge difference between his career expectations and reality, and that he was under pressure over family matters.

So far this year, 11 Foxconn employees have attempted suicide. Two failed. Yesterday’s successful suicide came just three days after a 21-year-old man tried the same.

The high number of suicides has set off alarm bells and attracted the interest of the public. Company officials responded to the situation by saying that working conditions in Longhua are the same in all of the company’s plants, which are long hours, de facto compulsory overtime during peak production periods, few opportunities for leisure activities, life in dormitories and eating at the cafeteria to save money. Unpleasant it may be, but no more alienating than in any other Chinese plant.

Beijing has reacted expressing concern over the situation—it urged the Taiwan-based company to monitor working conditions.

Some workers told the South China Morning Post that they are forced to work very long shifts under a military-style discipline.

A 21-year woman from Guangxi said she has to work from 8 am to 8 pm, six days a week. She has to rise at 6.30 am, walk for an hour from the dormitory to the plant “because there is no shuttle bus”.

“The atmosphere inside our workplaces is so tight and depressing that we're not allowed to speak to each other for 12 hours or you'll be reproached by supervisors. You'll only be given 30 minutes for lunch and are not allowed to use toilets for more than 10 minutes,” she said.

"You face being named and shamed by your supervisors several times a day,” she added, “with no respect at all, if you can't strictly follow all their discipline requirements."

A 22-year-old worker from Hunan complained the assembly line moved too fast and she needed to check and measure thousands of mainboards a day, but her monthly salary plus overtime pay was only 2,000 yuan (US$ 290).

“Although Foxconn always pays us on time and provides free meals and accommodation, I feel I have an empty life and work like a machine," she lamented.

Foxconn is the largest manufacturer of electronics and computer components worldwide. Its Longhua plant makes components for Apple iPhone and iPod.

The wave of suicides has had an impact on its share prices, which have fallen by more than 50 per cent this year.

In order to deal with the situation, health authorities are sending psychiatrists to counsel workers. Similarly, Shenzhen police has deployed 300 security guards at the factory to prevent further suicides

Despite the wave of self-inflicted deaths, Foxconn remains a popular place to work, with hordes of applicants lining up for jobs during the hiring season.

Considering the fact that the company employs 400,000 workers in Shenzhen, experts also note the number of suicides in its plants is below the national average of 16 per 100,000.

Even so, the company has decided to take countermeasures, putting up safety nets around its buildings to make suicide harder to carry out, and sending a memo asking workers to sign a pledge not to hurt themselves in an extreme manner.

In the meantime, Apple is concerned about the bad publicity and its effects on sales, announcing inspections.

Other important Foxcomm partners, like Nokia and Dell, said they too would also look into the situation.



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