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Cruel sweatshops! Why Foxconn workers are killing themselves

Last updated on: May 27, 2010 14:23 IST

Cruel sweatshops! Why Foxconn workers are killing themselves

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An employee of Foxconn, which makes iPhones for Apple apart from electronic goods for some of the world's biggest companies, jumped to his death, the 11th suspected suicide this year at the firm's production base in China, even as its chief apologised for a string of deaths and announced a series of measures to stem them.

The latest casualty fell to his death from a dormitory building in Shenzhen plant at around 11:20 pm on Wednesday night, official Xinhua news agency quoted eye witness as saying.

The death has also been confirmed by Foxconn. It was the 10th such death in the Shenzen plant and 12th such fall at the company's plant.

So what is Foxconn and what is leading to this spate of suicides? Click NEXT to read on. . .


Image: Ma Zishan cries as he carries a portrait of his son Ma Xiangqian outside a Foxconn factory in the township of Longhua.
Photographs: Bobby Yip/Reuters
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Foxconn is the world's biggest contract electronics maker

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Two Foxconn employees had survived their suicide attempts but sustained severe injuries.

The death adds to the woes of the company which had built some of the biggest factories of the world. Half the work force is based at the Longhua plant in Shenzhen.

Foxconn is the world's biggest contract electronics maker. Terry Gou is the chairman of the $46-billion Taiwanese technology giant that employs over 400,000 workers.

Foxconn is part of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Company.

Foxconn manufactures iPhones, iPads and spare parts for Apple Inc, desktop computers and parts for Hewlett-Packard and Dell, mobile phones for Motorola and other electronic goods for many other top brands, including Sony, Nokia and Microsoft.

Click NEXT to read on. . .


Image: Taiwanese tycoon Terry Gou, founder of Foxconn, visits a residential area of a Foxconn factory.
Photographs: Bobby Yip/Reuters
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Inhuman working conditions at Chinese sweatshops

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Foxconn factories resemble mini-cities but its work ethics, managerial practices besides poor salaries were stated to be reasons for recurring suicides, which the company was unable to stem.

The spate of suicides has brought into sharp focus the inhuman conditions in which the blue-collar workers perform their duties.

Chinese activists say that workers in these sweatshops face extremely long and arduous working hours, are given paltry salaries, and are under extreme pressure to deliver goods within the time allotted. They say the company is engaging in gross violation of labour rights and safety.

Newspaper reports have for long stated that Foxconn is a very secretive company which uses a dictatorial methods and military-style discipline to bullying its army of workers.

Click NEXT to read on. . .


Image: Workers are seen inside a Foxconn factory in the township of Longhua in Guangdong.
Photographs: Bobby Yip/Reuters
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Workers allege they get beaten up too

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Many workers, as young as 16 years old, get homesick and depressed. They are highly disturbed by the long shifts and the despotic discipline. Even speaking to co-workers or listening to music is banned during shifts. Over a period of time this leads to suicidal tendencies, say activists.

Foxconn workers earn roughly $75 (about Rs 3,500) for a 60-hour week; but most end up working far more hours than that. They are however compensated somewhat in terms of overtime pay.

Some reports also quoted some employees as saying that sometimes the company also beat up workers who did not fully adhere to its severe regulations.

Traumatised by series of tragedies, Terry Gou flew to Shenzhen and apologised before 300 local and foreign media for the deaths and promised to take measures to stop them.

"I am very concerned about this. I can't sleep every night. From a scientific point of view, I'm not confident we can stop every case. But, as a responsible employer, we have to take up the responsibility of preventing as many as we can," he said.

Click NEXT to read on. . .


Image: Workers say they get beaten up tooWorkers say they get beaten up tooWorkers say they get beaten up too
Photographs: Bobby Yip/Reuters
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A 'no-suicide' memo!

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As Gou was addressing the press, family members of one of the victims -- Ma Xiangqian, who jumped from a building to his death in January -- protested outside the factory.

The father said they had come to Shenzhen from Henan immediately after they learned about the news, but the company didn't let them see the body.

The company didn't compensate them either, he said.

A Chinese newspaper reported that a Foxconn employee told reporters recently that the entire company staff has been asked to 'sign a memo promising never to hurt themselves or others in an extreme manner'. The employee told the newspaper that he had decided not to sign the 'no suicide' memo.

Foxconn chairman Terry Gou, however, told the press that he had already rejected the proposal to get employees to sign the memo.

Click NEXT to read on. . .


Image: Protesters burn pieces of paper in the shape of iPhones manufactured by Foxconn.
Photographs: Bobby Yip/Reuters
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Workers being pushed too hard

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These suicides have also sparked off a debate in China, known as the factory of the world. Chinese newspapers and organisations are now arguing whether workers at such sweatshops are being pushed too hard to comply with foreign contracts and work orders.

Zhang Dongyong, an employee at Foxconn for three years, told China Daily that the suicides are a hot topic among workers.

Gou, however, defended Foxconn's work schedules and operations and hinted at the possibility of some of the worker suicides as being a result of personal problems which had nothing to do tough working conditions.

Click NEXT to read on. . .


Image: Workers walk on a street outside factory buildings at Foxconn in the township of Longhua.
Photographs: Bobby Yip/Reuters
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Apple, H-P investigating

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Meanwhile, Apple Inc, Hewlett-Packard Co, and other global electronics majors are investigating whether Foxconn has violated the minimum safety standards and best practices are specified by them to all their contract manufacturers.

Foxconn chairman Terry too pledged to build a safety mechanism that includes training 1,000 psychological counsellors to help solve employees' emotional problems.

The factory also brought in a team of Buddhists recently conduct ceremonies to prevent the recurring suicides.

Foxconn also now plans to hang safety nets around the many factory buildings spread across its sprawling campus so that workers cannot kill themselves even if they jump off a roof.


Image: Workers are seen inside a Foxconn factory.
Photographs: Bobby Yip/Reuters
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