What Drove Chinese Workers to Commit Suicide?

By Kwangmin Ahn
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – Liang Chao was a farmer’s son who migrated to the city seeking a better life. He worked at Foxconn, a company widely known for producing components for Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and other companies. But the 21-year-old worker was found dead on May 14 after falling from the seventh floor of a factory dormitory, according to local police. A few days after Liang’s death, another Foxconn employee died after falling from a building at the Shenzhen factory complex. In all, state-run media reports there have been 10 deaths and two failed suicide attempts over the past five months.

In Foxconn, the employees work six days a week with one day off and every day they work two hours overtime. Entry-level workers earn about 900 yuan ($132) a month at the Shenzen factory. Obviously work is tiring and there’s pressure. There are lots of rules here, for example a worker has to wear a uniform and a badge. He cannot smoke in public areas and only allowed to walk in authorised areas within the factory. A normal working day is 8am and 5.30pm but many people work till 8pm. The night shift starts at 8pm and ends at 8am. Workers don’t have much time to communicate with each other and they feel quite lonely. The salary is quite low for newcomers, the lowest in Shenzhen.

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

Both the company and Chinese authorities appear anxious to offset some of the negative attention caused by the suicides, telling Chinese newspapers to tone down their reporting of the incidents. Meanwhile, the chairman of Foxconn, Terry Gou, led media personnel on a tour of the factory and promised to do more to prevent further deaths.

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. However the company admits that “It’s true our employees basically stay at the same place 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” “We also find some young employees don’t know their roommates’ names and don’t communicate with each other.”

Foxconn said it is taking measures to improve its workers’ lives, organizing recreational activities, calling in Buddhist monks to offer spiritual consolation and setting up a 24-hour help line, but the company was overwhelmed because counselors were scarce.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Alarm over Apple factory suicides – 26 May 2010

CNN – China, company seek answers to rash of suicides– 28 May 2010

BBC – Suicide-hit Foxconn factory to increase wages– 28 May 2010

Author: Tyler Campbell

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