Thursday, May 27, 2010

Suicide Factory


Certainly, things must be gravely amiss when I learn of the suicides of 10 young workers at Foxconn plants in China this year. Media reports have sensationally referred to this super-secretive Taiwanese company as the “Apple suicide factory” although Foxconn Technology as the world's largest contract maker of electronics, counts among its products Apple iPods, Dell computers and Nokia phones.

Last Tuesday (May 25), 19-year-old Li Hai became the latest victim of the suicide surge, jumping to his death from a Foxconn building. Police said Li killed himself after working at the plant for only 42 days, the official Xinhua News Agency reported (Webpage
http://www.timeslive.co.za/world/article470276.ece/Apple-suicide-factory-opens-to-press, posted today).

This particular suicide is the ninth at Foxconn's gargantuan plant in Shenzhen, which employs more than 300,000 people. Another suicide occurred at a smaller plant in northern Hebei province in January.

And don’t forget those who jumped but didn’t die! Foxconn had admitted that it managed to prevent a further 20 attempts this year thus far (Webpage
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/china-business/7763699/Protest-at-Chinese-iPad-maker-Foxconn-after-11th-suicide-attempt-this-year.html, posted May 25, 2010).
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Labor activists say the string of suicides back up their long-standing allegations that workers toil in terrible conditions at Foxconn. They claim shifts are long, the assembly line moves too fast and managers enforce military-style discipline on the work force.
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But Foxconn insisted that workers are treated well and are protected by social responsibility programs (I wonder whether they actually know the meaning of 'social responsibility') that ensure their welfare. The Shenzhen factory is perennially a popular place to work, it seems. Around 8,000 people apply to work at the factory every day, Foxconn spokesman Liu Kun told the state-run China Daily newspaper (Webpage
http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/i-promise-not-to-kill-myself-apple-factory-workers-asked-to-sign-pledge-20100526-wddd.html, posted today).
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Stung by persistent media scrutiny, Foxconn was compelled to take extraordinary measures – I would perhaps even consider them bizarre. Workers had reportedly been told to sign letters promising not to kill themselves and even agree to be institutionalized if they appeared to be in an "abnormal mental or physical state for the protection of myself and others". Nets were also reportedly being hung around buildings to deter suicidal employees.
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This technology company, part of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. has defended their practices and founder Terry Gou who arrived in his private jet on Monday said he was not running "blood and sweat factories". How does he know? Perhaps, he should roll up his sleeves and spend a full day at one of his factories?

Anyway, to me, there are only two ways to look at this issue. First, that Foxconn attracts suicidal workers. Or second, workers become suicidal when they work at Foxconn. Now when I put it this way – it is easy to see things in the proper perspective. Therefore, Apple and the rest should know what to do to stop this “lemming syndrome” before more deaths occur. I am not holding my breath for Foxconn to do anything right since their indifferent management has permitted this to happen in the first place. Don’t we value the lives of our fellow human beings? Or are their lives not worth anything at all? What have we come to that we allow these to manifest in this day and age?

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