A spate of worker suicide in China alerts Americans  

May 26, 2010  more  more  more  more  more  more 

HONG KONG (MarketWatch) -- The chairman and founder of Foxconn Group, Terry Gou, flew into the Chinese city of Shenzhen on Wednesday, bringing with him a number of Taiwanese reporters, in an effort to tackle concerns about the company's labor practices following a spate of suicides and accusations of inhumane working conditions.  

Hong Kong financial district
Protesters from several workers' rights groups carry paper figures, depicting workers who recently died in apparent suicides, during a demonstration outside a Foxconn office in Hong Kong. @

"This is not a place that treats its workers badly," Gou was quoted as saying in a Reuters report.

Gou's remarks followed a spate of protests and criticisms against his company's labor practices.

Gou's worker name tag prepared by angry protestors
Gou's "worker name tag" prepared by angry protestors, depicting Gou as "a mean boss."

On Tuesday, labor groups in Hong Kong called for a worldwide boycott of Apple Inc.'s latest generation iPhone, which is produced at the facility. The labor groups claimed that the company pressured workers into overly long work shifts.

Apple said Wednesday it will independently investigate what measures Foxconn is taking to redress the suicide problem, according to a report by Dow Jones Newswires, which cited a company statement.

The Cupertino, Calif., tech giant Apple Inc. said in the statement that it is keeping an eye on its supply chain to ensure that conditions are safe and that "workers are treated with respect and dignity."

Apple Inc. said Wednesday it is independently investigating the steps that its supplier Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. is taking to address a recent spate of suicides at the Taiwan-based company's factory in southern China. "We are in direct contact with Foxconn senior management and we believe they are taking this matter very seriously," Apple said.

"We are saddened and upset by the recent suicides at Foxconn," the Apple statement said. "Apple is deeply committed to ensuring that conditions throughout our supply chain are safe and workers are treated with respect and dignity."

The statement by Apple is the first direct public acknowledgment of the suicides by a client of Hon Hai, which along with its subsidiaries and affiliates also goes by the trade name Foxconn.

Taiwan-listed Hon Hai, the world's largest electronics contract manufacturer by revenue, assembles products such as the iPhone and MacBook for Apple, as well as other gadgets and personal computers for a host of big brands including Dell Inc., Sony Corp., and Nokia Corp. The company employs more than 800,000 workers in China, more than half of them in Shenzhen.

Apple's comments come after the deaths of nine employees of the Shenzhen factory complex this year after falls from buildings. Most have been confirmed as suicides. The deaths have raised concerns about working conditions at the facility, although the company has defended its treatment of workers.

Hong Kong's protesters burn iPhone
from SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour) burn effigies of Apple products during a demonstration near the offices of Foxconn in Hong Kong over the deaths of 11 workers.

Factory workers are routinely compelled to work as much as 12 hours a day, with monthly overtime typically exceeding 100 hours, two Hong Kong-based trade unions claimed during a rally outside Foxconn's offices Tuesday. China's labor code says companies should allow employees to work no more than 36 hours of overtime a month.

On Tuesday a 19-year-old employee, in an apparent suicide, fell to his death from a building within Foxconn's Longhua industrial complex on the outskirts of Shenzhen. The death, reportedly the ninth of the year, came just days after the alleged suicide of a 21-year-old man Friday.

Tuesday's death made front-page news across Chinese-language Websites and newspapers, touching a nerve in a nation rocked by a recent wave of brutal knifing attacks on school children.

Some commentators say the recent tragedies highlight mental-health problems and rising social tensions brought on by the nation's rapid economic advance.

Gou on Monday had rejected claims of poor working conditions at the company's plants, saying that he wasn't running "blood and sweat factories."

Foxconn has more than 400,000 employees at the Longhua facility, about half its total workforce in China.