No respite for troubled Foxconn after fresh suicide bid


THE TRAGIC saga of young people taking their own lives at the Foxconn electronics factory goes on, after a 25-year-old employee surnamed Chen tried to kill himself by slashing his wrists.

The Hunan native, who had been working at Foxconn since March, received medical attention in time to save his life.

Mr Chen’s attempted suicide came after a 23-year-old migrant worker from the far western province of Gansu died after jumping from the seventh-floor balcony of his dormitory, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

The tragic events are making people thinking about the real cost of their iPads, laptops and mobile phones.

There have been 10 deaths out of 13 suicide attempts at the plant, which employs over 300,000 people, since January, and Foxconn’s main clients, fearful of the fallout from the suicide crisis, are asking why this is happening.

Both Dell and Hewlett-Packard have said they were looking into conditions at Foxconn, one day after Apple said it was upset by the deaths and was also investigating the situation.

Apple said it is “deeply committed to ensuring that conditions throughout our supply chain are safe and workers are treated with respect and dignity.” The suicide crisis worsened just hours after chief executive Terry Guo personally showed journalists around the plant in a bid to repair the company’s image, which has been badly hit by the wave of suicides.

Foxconn employs 400,000 people in all of Shenzhen, which is located just across the border from Hong Kong. Across China, the company employs 800,000 people.

Company boss Mr Guo admitted to reporters during a tour hours earlier that he couldn’t sleep at night and dreaded answering his telephone, fearing more news about deaths.

The company is part of Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Company and it is the world’s largest contract maker of electronics. Chances are that any electronic items you regularly use have some element made by Foxconn.

Mr Guo has reiterated that his firm plan to do everything possible to prevent more deaths.

The company is building a 1.5 million square-metre “safety net” to cover all the factory dormitories and workshops, although many feel more needs to be done to resolve the reasons why young people are taking their lives in such numbers. All of the dead are between 18 and 24 years of age.

More psychological counsellors are being hired and Buddhist monks have been retained to deal with matters of the spirit, but increasingly there is a feeling that the kind of work people have to do at Foxconn – soul-destroying piecework with little respite in an oppressively difficult atmosphere – is making people depressed, and in 12 cases so far, suicidal.

In a bid to fend off this depression, Mr Guo said that all the employees were being divided up into 50-member groups, whose members would watch for signs of emotional trouble within their group.

The Foxconn plant is normally closed to reporters and difficult to access, but the public outcry about the wave of suicides has caused serious negative publicity for the company. Some of the group’s major clients have expressed their concern about how the plant was run, prompting Mr Guo to open the doors. Labour activists have long said the rigid style of operation and long working hours were a recipe for disaster.

On a tour of the plant this week, Mr Guo showed off a motherboard factory, hotline centre and one of four swimming pools for employees. Most employees asked said they had never been swimming there.