Another Attempted Suicide at Foxconn; Company and China Look for Answers (Updated)

Another worker from Foxconn reportedly tried to kill himself today, bringing the total number of suicide attempts at the company to 13 this year. (Rumors of more suicides are spreading on the Internet. See chinaSMACK and Shanghaiist for more.) AP reports:

Police said the man survived after cutting himself in his dormitory room at the factory, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. It said the 25-year-old man, surnamed Chen, migrated from central Hunan province and began working at Foxconn two months ago.

Foxconn officials and police did not immediately answer calls by The Associated Press.

The 12 previous suicide attempts at Foxconn Technology Group’s operations in southern China involved workers who jumped from buildings. Two survived. Another worker killed himself in January at a factory in northern China.

CNN reports on questions being asked about the rash of suicides:

These incidents, widely reported by the Chinese media, have raised questions about the plight of migrant workers and the pressures they endure living and working in big cities.

Foxconn is one of the world’s top electronics manufacturers. Of its 800,000 employees in China’s mainland, 420,000 are in Shenzhen, where they work in shifts and live in the sprawling factory complex.

Right now, there are no concrete answers as to what drove the workers to commit suicide. Foxconn insists that its workers are treated well and there could be a number of factors at play. Liu said the company is analyzing the mindset of their employees to try and get to the root of the problem.

“It’s true our employees basically stay at the same place 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “We also find some young employees don’t know their roommates’ names and don’t communicate with each other. Some prefer recreational activities using mobile phones or computers instead of taking part in traditional pastimes. Many of our workers come from rural areas and to adjust to life in the city becomes another challenge to them.”


The Wall Street Journal plays down
the hardships workers face and says it is too early to jump to conclusions:

The company’s critics have jumped to the conclusion that Foxconn is mistreating its workers. In Hong Kong, labor protesters burned paper iPhones outside the Foxconn office, labeling it a sweatshop operator and calling for a boycott of the next generation of iPhone. Just as with Nike and other big names, the mere suggestion that high-end branded products are manufactured under abusive conditions brings out the antiglobalization brigade.

The situation demands greater nuance and understanding. This cluster of suicides should be investigated, and indeed the government and Foxconn’s customers are doing so. Managers are scrambling to provide counseling and a suicide hotline for the young workforce. But the indications so far are that conditions in the factory are good and job applicants are eager to work there.

Suicide clusters are a global phenomenon among young people, who are highly suggestible. Foxconn’s factory employees tend to join the company at the age of 18 or 19, and stay for several years. So the atmosphere in its dormitories is akin to that of a large university, with the workers living away from home for the first time and encountering the usual new experiences. Several of the recent suicides seem to have been related to love affairs gone wrong.

See also “Why Foxconn cannot stop its suicides” from Malcolm Moore of the Telegraph.

Update: Foxconn announced it would raise workers’ salaries by 20 percent today, Reuters reports. See also “Crunching the suicide statistics at Foxconn” by Malcolm Moore in China Economic Review.

May 27, 2010 12:22 PM
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