Foxconn shines light on China's factory problems

08:20, May 28, 2010      

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A Foxconn worker speaks to a journalist on Thursday morning outside of the company's Longhua Science & Technology Park in Shenzhen, where another Foxconn employee jumped to his death late on Wednesday, bringing the suicide toll to 10. Chen Wen / China News Service

The string of suicides at a Foxconn Technology Group factory in South China highlights the management crisis of China's labor-intensive manufacturing industry, experts said after the latest death on Wednesday night and a suicide attempt on Thursday.

An employee of Foxconn attempted to kill himself by cutting his veins at around 4 am on Thursday. He survived after medical treatment, Shenzhen city government officials said.

The employee, surnamed Chen, from Central China's Hunan province, joined Foxconn on March 15 this year, and the motive for his suicide attempt is under investigation, government officials said.

The latest suicide attempt came after 12 Foxconn employees jumped off buildings. Ten of them died so far this year.

The latest death occurred on Wednesday night when a young man jumped from his dormitory building just hours after the company's chairman toured the plant that makes iPods and other top-selling gadgets.

The latest to die was a 23-year-old migrant worker from faraway Northwest China's Gansu province who began work at the plant on June 18 last year. He jumped from a balcony on the seventh floor of his dormitory building at 11:20 pm, the Shenzhen police said.

An initial police investigation reported the employee committed suicide. The latest death, as well as the suicide attempt, further increased the pressure on Foxconn, a unit of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry.

Its clients, including Apple, Hewlett Packard and Nokia, have all expressed concern regarding the matter. Apple claimed to be sending an independent team to evaluate the steps Foxconn is taking to address the suicides.

Experts said deep-rooted problems lie behind the deaths of so many young workers.

Guo Yuhua, a sociology professor at Beijing-based Tsinghua University, said Foxconn represents the status quo of China's profit-driven manufacturing industry, in which companies are trying to offer low salaries to workers to control production costs.

Workers are usually kept in closed industrial parks with no access to social activities and no way to develop social relations, she said.

"This problem is not limited to Foxconn, and it's not only a psychological problem but also a social one," she said.

Guo also said labor-intensive manufacturing companies like Foxconn should make more efforts to enable their employees to have normal social lives.

"There should be communities and the workers should have time to have contact with others," she said.

The monthly salary for a typical Foxconn employee is about 900 yuan ($131), so many workers volunteer to work extra hours to earn more money.

Lu Huilin, an associate professor of sociology at Peking University, said the string of jumps also reflects the poor situation of the second-generation migrant workers.

All the confirmed dead Foxconn workers are between 18 and 24 years old, and most come from the rural and less-developed regions.

"Their parents are from rural areas, but many of the young workers are born in cities and no longer have farm land. They have big dreams of the city life, but find the dream can never come true," he said.

Lu said although Foxconn is not a traditional sweatshop, as it offers good working conditions sound living facilities and no forced overtime, many workers still suffer from tension, anxiety, or even spiritual malaise.

Lu said the government should urge firms to improve the working conditions, prevent illegal overtime and get rid of violent security guards.

However, some experts believe the problem with the younger generation exists within themselves.

Yang Tuan, a sociology professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the generation born in the 1980s and 1990s are too fragile.

"They are too vulnerable to stand any pressure. We need to change our education methods. Stop spoiling them and make them tough," she said.

Zhuang Wenqiang, who runs a toy factory in Dongguan that employs about 300 workers, said it is much harder to manage the younger generation of workers than their parents.

Wang Xing contributed to this story.

Source:China Daily


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