Internet & Tech

Suicide factory

Major electronics manufacturer hit by spate of staff fatalities

Not the happiest of places to work: a Foxconn factory

Lu Xin had worked at Foxconn for less than a year. But he already felt his ambitions for a musical career were slipping away. Although he had participated in Superboy, a television singing competition, he felt that his job at the electronics manufacturer was holding him back. “I am earning more money here, but I am so full of regret because I find I am wasting time and losing my dream,” he wrote in his blog last October, reports the South China Morning Post. On May 6, the 24 year-old took his own life by jumping from a building.

Zeng Hongling, another Foxconn employee and a former classmate of Lu, was with him when it happened. Zeng told CCTV: “[Lu] said he was going to look at the scenery and right after he finished his sentence, he quickly slid open the window and jumped onto the balcony, then jumped off. He never hesitated. I tried to grab him, but only pulled his clothes on his left arm, he threw my hand off.”

Lu’s death is not an isolated tragedy – he was the fifth Foxconn employee to commit suicide this year. Since his death three more employees have killed themselves by jumping from buildings. And the company says that it has managed to avert nearly 30 further suicide attempts over the last few weeks, by installing a helpline for employees. Yet the company is unable to explain the high number of deaths.

The incidents are happening in Shenzhen, where the Taiwanese firm employs 420,000 people. Its main factory in the city is a gargantuan site where more than 300,000 people work. Foxconn is a supplier for some of the world’s best-known electronics brands, including the iPhone. Last July one employee leapt to his death after being questioned over the disappearance of a prototype iPhone model.

Foxconn says it is doing all that it can to stem the flow of fatalities. “We have the best dormitories, internet cafes, [five] swimming pools and basketball courts for our workers,” a company spokesman told the SCMP. On top of the 24-hour hotline, psychologists have been employed to find out what is going on. Some workers are being trained as counsellors.

A reporter at South Weekly magazine, Liu Zhiyi, kept a diary while working undercover at the factory for 28 days. He said that although the dormitories were of a high quality, the people living in them often did not even know each other’s names. Another problem was that the site did not have enough entertainment facilities where young people could hang out, such as cinemas or parks.

It’s not as if Foxconn employees have that much spare time. Liu said that production lines open up at 4am, for eight hour (often standing only) shifts. And since the basic salary is just Rmb900 ($132) a month, the emphasis is on overtime, which can increase earnings to around Rmb2,000. One former employee told the China Daily that supervisors disapprove of workers that don’t put in the extra hours.

Others believe that young migrant labourers today are just not as resilient as their predecessors. Labour rights activist Liu Kaiming told the SCMP that workers born in the eighties and nineties are “spoiled children and unwilling to do dirty work”. He claimed too that many lack the responsibility of their parents’ generation. These young workers go to the city with big dreams – and failure comes as a heavy blow. Some do not know how to cope.

“I found many young workers do not treat suicide as a serious issue because they do not respect their lives,” Liu concluded.


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