Chinese worker suicides highlighted
A spate of suicides among Chinese workers making the Apple iPad, Sony Ericsson phones and other electronic items has drawn fresh attention to working conditions in the factories supplying consumers worldwide with must-have gadgets.
At 6:20 a.m. Tuesday, 19-year-old migrant worker Li Hai threw himself to his death from the roof of a building at electronics manufacturer Foxconn in the southern boom town of Shenzhen.
He was the ninth company employee to kill himself this year. Two other would-be suicides have survived their injuries.
Foxconn's massive complex, employing more than 400,000 people, has a reputation for strict discipline, said Geoffrey Crothall, spokesman for "China Labour Bulletin," which monitors working conditions in China.
Terry Gou, founder of Foxconn's Taiwanese parent company, Hon Hai Precision Industry, insisted Monday that his firm does not run "a blood and sweat factory."
By Chinese standards, Foxconn is not a bad employer. The company pays social security contributions for its employees, offers cheap housing and food, and pays overtime at the legal rate. It has no difficulty attracting young migrant workers from the countryside.
But a report in the respected "Southern Weekly" newspaper in Guangzhou, China, earlier this month, written by an intern who spent a month working undercover at Foxconn, painted a grim picture of alienation.
Workers are required to stand at fast-moving assembly lines for eight hours without a break and without talking, the journalist reported. Workers, sharing sleeping accommodations with nine other workmates, often do not know each others' names.
The basic starting pay of roughly $130 a month -- "barely enough to live on" -- can be augmented to a more respectable $295 only by working 30 hours of overtime a week.
The string of suicides at Foxconn is "not grossly abnormal" compared with the national suicide rate, according to Michael Phillips, head of the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center and the leading foreign authority on suicide in China.
He put the national suicide rate at about 15 per 100,000, based on incomplete data. By comparison, the U.S. rate is 11 per 100,000.
The incidence has drawn widespread attention in the local press because of Foxconn's work for Apple, Crothall said.
The company has taken a number of steps to try to halt the suicides, from setting up a helpline and offering rewards to employees who point out colleagues' unusual behavior to hiring counselors and bringing in Buddhist priests to exorcise the factory and pacify the spirits of those who died.
Phillips warned that a copy-cat effect may have set in, with each suicide prompting another, which could be hard to break.
Crothall suggested raising wages to a livable level to reduce overtime. "Then they would have more time to socialize, to be with their friend and just generally to have a life, which at the moment they don't have."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers kicker Boswell puts best foot forward
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin not grooming successor to RB Williams
- Hempfield man fights off intruders
- Penn State football coach Franklin renews his plea for patience
- H&M to open in Westmoreland Mall
- 2nd command officer at Allegheny County Jail punished
- Stop by Stanley’s Bar & Grill in Ford City for Thanksgiving dinner
- Occupying playoff spot on Thanksgiving good harbinger for Penguins
- Pittsburgh man charged with 56 counts after high-speed chase over weekend
- Pitt’s Dixon monitoring minutes early in season
- Former Mountaineer Bailey shot in head in Miami