Chinese media [zh] reported on 2 May 2013 that two Foxconn employees had jumped to their deaths in Zhengzhou, once again raising concerns about poor working conditions and mismanagement at the world’s largest electronics manufacturer that produces hardware for technology giants like Apple, Dell and Amazon.
In a company statement obtained by Global Voices, Foxonn acknowledged that a 23-year-old female and a 24-year-old male employee were found dead on April 24 and April 27 respectively, but did not specify how they had died.
We can confirm that we were informed by law enforcement authorities in Zhengzhou, China of the death of a 23-year old female employee of our campus in that city at an off-campus residence complex on April 27. We have expressed our condolences to the employee's family and are providing assistance to them at this very sad time. We are also cooperating fully with the law enforcement authorities as they carry out an investigation into this matter.
With regards to reports about the death of a 24-year old male on April 24, we were informed by law enforcement authorities that this individual was found dead on that date at a private residential facility in Zhengzhou. This individual had applied to work at our Zhengzhou campus but was not yet an employee and had never worked at any Foxconn facility. We are also supporting law enforcement authorities as they investigate the facts surrounding this sad incident.
Chinese news reports [zh] blame working conditions and management practices at the Foxconn plant for the deaths. A so-called ‘silent mode’ of working was introduced at the Zhengzhou factory in April of this year. Workers in the plant – uniformed young men and women mostly in their early 20s – are forbidden from chatting while working once they enter the plant. If they do, they risk being fired.
Foxconn’s Workers’ Union denied that the ‘silent mode’ was to blame for the deaths. They also claimed that the 24-year-old male was not an employee.
Foxconn, the Taiwanese company founded in 1974 by entrepreneur Terry Gou, has come under intensified scrutiny in recent years due to a rash of suicides in 2010 when 13 young workers, aged between 18 to 24, leapt from their dormitory buildings, in protest of the company’s management practices.
Excessive overtime, dangerous working conditions, high work intensity and lack of social insurance are some of the common problems reported at Foxconn, according to China Labor Watch,a New-York based non-profit organization. In a 2012 exclusive on the Nightline program on ABC News, workers in white uniforms were seen working on the assembly line and taking naps during noon breaks.
In the wake of employee suicides and critical media reports in recent years, the company has responded with pay raises and less strict rules. It also moved some of its plants to interior provinces. The Zhengzhou plant, in central Henan province, started operating in 2010. Touted as a showcase project with an estimated 13 billion US dollars worth of annual exports, the Zhengzhou operation is said to have absorbed legions of cheap labor in Henan where migrant workers usually journey to coastal provinces for better paid jobs. Foxconn employed about 300,000 people in Zhengzhou last year, according to the Wall Street Journal.
News of the most recent suicides came when people across China were gearing up for the three-day 1 May holiday, a day to honor worker's rights. The tragic incidents, as well as their timing, prompted people to take to Sina Weibo to unleash their frustrations.
Dianji Jujin from Shanghai wrote [zh]:
五一国际劳动节前夕 郑州富士康又惊现二连跳 见了这样的消息 我无语了….
On the eve of International Worker’s Day, two “jumps” occurred at Foxconn in Zhengzhou, I was speechless when I learnt the news.
One Beijing Weibo user called Hongyan Xiaolu let out a sigh [zh]:
Why is there another suicidal jump at Foxconn? I truly feel pain! How precious life is, it just vanished when a person jumps from a (building) some 100 meters high. Is it that people are too weak psychologically or there is really no point in living on?
Chen Wanyu from Nanchang, capital of China’s central Jiangxi province, offered his advice [zh] to avoid a repeat of the tragedy:
#Advice to Foxconn# I call on Foxconn to pay attention to employee’s psychological well-being, it should establish “psychological counselling rooms”. A contract manufacturer should not carry on a rigid management that used to work, it has to heed human management. Workers that carry a psychological burden will not be efficient in their work, and the cost that a company pays will perhaps exceed its talent losses. I hope the tragedy will not be repeated.
Shangshan Ruowenwen, argued [zh] in defense of the company:
Foxconn, to be honest, Foxconn has been good to those workers, it's better than enterprises in mainland China. Why do the media keep coming down on Foxconn, is it because it is a Taiwanese enterprise? In the past, some want to jump from buildings because they are burdened by overtime incurred by increased orders, now there are also many unruly people who threatened to jump for they are paid less because there is no overtime due to decreased orders.
Echoing a similar sentiment, Jiajia Woshi Jiajia lamented [zh]:
I really don't get it, concerning the suicidal jumps at Foxconn, why does everyone read the headlines without looking at the content? I'd like to say, be it jumping from the building or not able to afford a brick, people can adjust to (those things)! Why jump from a building if you are not allowed to chat in the company? Or do you feel that other companies don't want to hire you because you don't have relevant diploma and skills? When Foxconn hired you, why do you have to tarnish it?
Tian Qingwei, a Beijing-based lawyer called for action [zh] on Weibo to promote worker's rights:
On the Eve of Worker's Day, there were four consecutive suicidal jumps, how can worker's rights be protected, how can working class excercise their right to lead? On the one hand, suicidal jumps keep coming, on the other, there is tolerance of “exploiting is meaningful” theory by Mao Yushi. What's the point of mentioning workers’ right to lead without taking concrete actions? The deterioration of Worker's Union is a clear sign that workers have lost their right to lead. Workers and famers can't wait any longer!
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