On May 26, 2010, the tenth worker this year at the Foxconn electronics plant in southern China jumped to his death, and another worker reportedly attempted suicide by slashing his wrists. Since January, there have been at least three attempted suicides and 11 fatalities, all but one at the giant 300,000-plus-employee Taiwanese-owned facility in Shenzhen. Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, assembles products in China for brands such as Apple, Dell, and Nokia.
||Foxconn recently installed safety nets between workers' dormitory buildings to prevent employees from attempting suicide by jumping off the rooftops.
The young man who jumped from a window on the factory premises was only 23 years old. All of the suicide and attempted suicide victims are young workers, between 18 and 25. They represent the “new” or second generation of migrant workers in China who have followed their parents from the rural areas to the cities to be the low-cost labor that has driven China’s remarkable economic growth. Worker rights advocates and others have reported that Foxconn employees work long hours for minimum wage and that they describe working under great pressure and feeling extremely isolated. Zhang Jianguo, a senior official from the official All China Federation of Trade Unions, recently reported that workers’ wages as a proportion of GDP have gone down every year since 1983.
On May 18, in response to the tragic deaths at Foxconn, nine sociology professors from the mainland and Hong Kong issued a statement calling on the government, Foxconn, and other companies to improve conditions for workers, guarantee worker rights, and end the “race-to-the bottom” development model:
Over the last thirty years, China has depended on huge numbers of cheap laborers, mainly from rural areas, who have forged an export-oriented style “world factory”, and fueled the rapid growth of China’s economy. But at the same time, the basic survival rights of the work force have been overlooked; we have denied migrant workers’ dignity, paid them at wage levels below the average for third world countries, made it impossible for them to settle and live in the cities, while leaving them to drift back and forth between cities and the countryside. We have made them live a migrancy life that is rootless and helpless, where families are separated, parents have no one to support them, and children are not taken care of. In short, this is a life without dignity. From the tragedies at Foxconn, we can hear the loud cries for life from the second generation of migrant workers, warning society to reconsider this development model that has sacrificed people’s fundamental dignity.
On May 25, the day that another 19-year-old man jumped to his death, labor activists in Hong Kong gathered outside Foxconn’s headquarters there to urge the company to thoroughly investigate the recent suicides, improve working conditions, facilitate the establishment of democratic worker organizations in the factory, and invite labor NGOs to discuss Foxconn’s management methodology. Demonstrators lit cardboard cutouts of iPhones on fire as an offering to victims.
Foxconn Suicides: Governments and Companies Must Face Responsibilities (statement by the International Trade Unon Confederation)
Dying Young: Suicide & China’s Booming Economy
Sign the LabourStart appeal