The following is my latest post on Digital East Asia.
Barely three days after our last report on the chain of deaths at major OEM Foxconn (PINK: FXCNY), another employee has committed a suicide jump, making it jump number 8 at Foxconn’s Shenzhen base this year.
As Chinese website HC360 reports (link in Chinese), on the night of May 11, a female Foxconn employee Ms. Zhu, aged 24, jumped from the top of the eight-story residential building she lived in. While the reporters could not get immediate verification from Foxconn regarding Ms. Zhu’s employment status, they were able to confirm from Shenzhen police that Ms. Zhu was a Foxconn employee. She had not been to work in the past few days, and had stayed at home, possibly due to feeling low. The police is still investigating her death.
The irony is that only a day before, Foxconn had invited 3 buddhist monks from Mount Wutai (Shanxi Province, China) to perform a ritual at their production base in Shenzhen. As Qingdaonewsreports (link in Chinese), Foxconn chairman Terry Gou had first proposed such an idea after the string of deaths in April, though senior management rejected the proposal due to PR concerns. As one insider commented, “we are concerned people would say, ‘instead of reviewing management practices, Foxconn decided to use monks to dissolve the incident.’”
However, after the death of employee Lu Xin on May 6, Mr. Gou again brought up the proposal, and this time it was executed. Vice President He Youcheng was reportedly tasked with invitingesteemed monks. Mr. Gou reportedly also personally telephoned government officials in Shanxi to expedite matters. Eventually, they were able to invite 3 monks, who arrived on the night of May 10.
Mr. He confesses the stress and tradeoffs:
“Finding monks to perform the ritual is to follow local customs and help people calm down, and not due to superstition… we have been doing internal reviews, and we hope this time the media would not focus on the matter of the ritual.”
HC360 also provided a summary (link in Chinese) of the previous incidents this year:
- May 6: 22 year old Lu Xin, male, jumps from Longhua site hotel balcony and dies
- April 7: 22 year old male employee dies in his residence in Zhangge village, Guanlan
- April 7: 18 year old female Ms. Ning jumps from Guanlan site employee dormitory and dies
- April 6: Ms. Rao falls from Guanlan site dormitory building and is still being hospitalized
- March 29: 23 year old male employee falls from Longhua site dormitory building and dies
- March 17: a new female employee jumps from Longhua site dormitory building, suffering injuries
- March 11: Mr. Lee falls from 5th floor of Longhua site dormitory building and dies
- January 23: Mr. Ma Xiangqian, 19 years old, dies around 4am. Police autopsy report later determines he died from falling from a high-rise.
Apart from the death of the male employee on April 7, the rest of the incidents are all related to jumps (in some cases media have used the euphemism “fall from building” instead of jumps, probably due to inconclusive evidence of suicide), and as such Chinese media are labeling it “eight consecutive jumps at Foxconn”.
There have been a lot of discussion in the media around the cause of these incidents. Chinese authorities had investigated Foxconn, but found no evidence of misconduct back in April. Foxconn management had told media there are deficiencies in their management which they are looking into. Foxconn does have a reputation of being secretive (their security manhandled a Reuters reporter earlier this year), and assembly workers reportedly get half their income through working overtime. These would suggest Foxconn employees are working under harsh conditions, albeit perhaps legally under Chinese regulations.
However, broader social issues in China is at least partly to blame. The Chinese education system, which I am a product of, is adept at feeding students complex formulas, but poor at teaching students how to think independently, and equally importantly, how to handle one’s emotions. And the growing income disparity, the rampant corruption, the lack of an adequate social welfare system (healthcare in particular), and in some cases the over-supply of labor, have all contributed to high stress among Chinese citizens. The eight jumps have been a disaster long in the making, and Foxconn’s factories in Shenzhen appear to have been the tragic tipping point for these individuals. I sincerely hope these series of incidents can at least help raise social awareness on labor conditions as well as the underlying social issues.