Is Foxconn, the huge electronics company that manufactures for global brands such as HP, Dell, and Apple (yes, they make the iPad and iPhone) a towering fortress of secrecy where employees cower in fear, ten people to a dorm room, or a normal manufacturing outfit that has had a weird cluster of employee suicides recently?
Ten Foxconn employees have committed suicide in the last year, and five in the last month alone. The first that attracted major media attention in recent months was a 25-year-old man who claimed that company security officers accused him of stealing an iPhone prototype and beat him.
The company has responded to the damage to its image with promises to improve management techniques and working conditions, a rumored 20% raise for factory workers, and asking employees to sign a pledge not to kill themselves.
But is there another reason for the suicides–a demographic one, that has nothing to do with problems specific to Foxconn? One expert thinks so.
Jing Jun, a sociology professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing and one of the experts Foxconn invited here, dismissed the idea that the company’s labor practices were to blame. He said the victims were young people, ages 18 to 24, almost all of whom had recently moved to Shenzhen from rural areas. He said he believed they struggled with personal problems and the challenges of adjusting to factory life.
Professor Jing also offered a theory that widespread reports about the earlier suicides at Foxconn this year had created a contagion of copycats, particularly after rumors spread about the high compensation the company was paying some of the victims’ families. Some families had received about 100,000 renminbi, or a little more than $14,600, according to several Foxconn employees.
Keep in mind that a Foxconn worker can expect to earn the equivalent of $46 per week.
Have Foxconn’s labor practices been criticized before? Yes, even before the release of the iPhone.
To look at how Chinese media are dealing with the controversy through cartoons, check out this M.I.C. Gadget post.