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China: More Suicides at Foxconn Factory

Chinese media [zh] reported on 2 May 2013 that two Foxconn employees had jumped to their deaths in Zhengzhou, once again raising concerns about poor working conditions and mismanagement at the world’s largest electronics manufacturer that produces hardware for technology giants like Apple, Dell and Amazon.

In a company statement obtained by Global Voices, Foxonn acknowledged that a 23-year-old female and a 24-year-old male employee were found dead on April 24 and April 27 respectively, but did not specify how they had died.

We can confirm that we were informed by law enforcement authorities in Zhengzhou, China of the death of a 23-year old female employee of our campus in that city at an off-campus residence complex on April 27. We have expressed our condolences to the employee's family and are providing assistance to them at this very sad time. We are also cooperating fully with the law enforcement authorities as they carry out an investigation into this matter.

With regards to reports about the death of a 24-year old male on April 24, we were informed by law enforcement authorities that this individual was found dead on that date at a private residential facility in Zhengzhou. This individual had applied to work at our Zhengzhou campus but was not yet an employee and had never worked at any Foxconn facility. We are also supporting law enforcement authorities as they investigate the facts surrounding this sad incident.

 

Chinese news reports [zh] blame working conditions and management practices at the Foxconn plant for the deaths. A so-called ‘silent mode’ of working was introduced at the Zhengzhou factory in April of this year. Workers in the plant – uniformed young men and women mostly in their early 20s – are forbidden from chatting while working once they enter the plant. If they do, they risk being fired.

Screenshot from Youku depicting events in Zhengzhou.

Screenshot from Youku depicting events in Zhengzhou.

Foxconn’s Workers’ Union denied that the ‘silent mode’ was to blame for the deaths. They also claimed that the 24-year-old male was not an employee.

Foxconn, the Taiwanese company founded in 1974 by entrepreneur Terry Gou, has come under intensified scrutiny in recent years due to a rash of suicides in 2010 when 13 young workers, aged between 18 to 24, leapt from their dormitory buildings, in protest of the company’s management practices.

Excessive overtime, dangerous working conditions, high work intensity and lack of social insurance are some of the common problems reported at Foxconn, according to China Labor Watch,a New-York based non-profit organization. In a 2012 exclusive on the Nightline program on ABC News, workers in white uniforms were seen working on the assembly line and taking naps during noon breaks.

In the wake of employee suicides and critical media reports in recent years, the company has responded with pay raises and less strict rules. It also moved some of its plants to interior provinces. The Zhengzhou plant, in central Henan province, started operating in 2010. Touted as a showcase project with an estimated 13 billion US dollars worth of annual exports, the Zhengzhou operation is said to have absorbed legions of cheap labor in Henan where migrant workers usually journey to coastal provinces for better paid jobs. Foxconn employed about 300,000 people in Zhengzhou last year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

News of the most recent suicides came when people across China were gearing up for the three-day 1 May holiday, a day to honor worker's rights. The tragic incidents, as well as their timing, prompted people to take to Sina Weibo to unleash their frustrations.

Dianji Jujin from Shanghai wrote [zh]:

五一国际劳动节前夕 郑州富士康又惊现二连跳 见了这样的消息 我无语了….

On the eve of International Worker’s Day, two “jumps” occurred at Foxconn in Zhengzhou, I was speechless when I learnt the news.

One Beijing Weibo user called Hongyan Xiaolu let out a sigh [zh]:

富士康为什么又有人跳楼了呢? 真心觉得心痛啊!多宝贵的生命啊,从百米之上落下便没有了。是人内心太脆弱还是真的生存真的失去了意义?

Why is there another suicidal jump at Foxconn? I truly feel pain! How precious life is, it just vanished when a person jumps from a (building) some 100 meters high. Is it that people are too weak psychologically or there is really no point in living on?

Chen Wanyu from Nanchang, capital of China’s central Jiangxi province, offered his advice [zh] to avoid a repeat of the tragedy:

 #给富士康的建议#呼吁富士康重视员工心理保健,逐步设立“心理咨询室”。一个以制造代工模式为主的企业,不能一直沿袭以往有效的刚性管理,必须注意管理人性化。员工心理不健康会降低工作效率,企业付出的成本可能比人才流失还大。希望悲剧不再重演

#Advice to Foxconn# I call on Foxconn to pay attention to employee’s psychological well-being, it should establish “psychological counselling rooms”. A contract manufacturer should not carry on a rigid management that used to work, it has to heed human management. Workers that carry a psychological burden will not be efficient in their work, and the cost that a company pays will perhaps exceed its talent losses. I hope the tragedy will not be repeated.

Shangshan Ruowenwen, argued [zh] in defense of the company:

我富士康,实话实说,富士康对那帮操作工不错了,比大陆的企业强多了。为毛媒体只盯着富士康不放,还不就因为是台企么。以前是订单多加班多,他们嫌累不想加跳楼,现在订单少没加班,他们又嫌钱少前两天还有威胁跳楼的刁民太多。

Foxconn, to be honest, Foxconn has been good to those workers, it's better than enterprises in mainland China. Why do the media keep coming down on Foxconn, is it because it is a Taiwanese enterprise? In the past, some want to jump from buildings because they are burdened by overtime incurred by increased orders, now there are also many unruly people who threatened to jump for they are paid less because there is no overtime due to decreased orders.

Echoing a similar sentiment, Jiajia Woshi Jiajia lamented [zh]:

我是真心搞不懂了,为嘛富士康跳楼事件,大家只看标题不看内容呢?其实我想说,不管跳楼也好,买不起砖也好,这都是可以自己调节的啊!你因为公司不给说话否则开除就跳楼?那为什么不换份工作?还是觉得没学历没技术别的公司不可能要你?那么既然富士康收留了 你们为什么还要抹黑他呢?

I really don't get it, concerning the suicidal jumps at Foxconn, why does everyone read the headlines without looking at the content? I'd like to say, be it jumping from the building or not able to afford a brick, people can adjust to (those things)! Why jump from a building if you are not allowed to chat in the company? Or do you feel that other companies don't want to hire you because you don't have relevant diploma and skills? When Foxconn hired you, why do you have to tarnish it?

Tian Qingwei, a Beijing-based lawyer called for action [zh] on Weibo to promote worker's rights:

劳动节前夕,富士康四连跳,劳动者权益何从保障,甚或说工人阶级领导权何处体现?一方面工人罢工不断涌现甚至类似富士康跳楼事件接连发生,一方面却是容忍@茅于轼 兜售剥削有功论,即便重提工人阶级领导权,而若没有实际行动,又有何用?工会的异化,就是工人领导权丧失的鲜明例证。工农已等不起!

On the Eve of Worker's Day, there were four consecutive suicidal jumps, how can worker's rights be protected, how can working class excercise their right to lead? On the one hand, suicidal jumps keep coming, on the other, there is tolerance of “exploiting is meaningful” theory by Mao Yushi.  What's the point of mentioning workers’ right to lead without taking concrete actions? The deterioration of Worker's Union is a clear sign that workers have lost their right to lead. Workers and famers can't wait any longer!

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