A Solemn Count Goes Up Again – 11th Suicide Jump at Foxconn Warrants More Questions

The following is my latest post on Digital East Asia.

Reuters and many international media are reporting the latest death in the string of suicide jumps at Foxconn Technology Group (PINK: FXCNY).  The incident occurred on the morning of May 25, and a 19 year-old employee fell from a building in Foxconn’s Shenzhen base.  While police have not ruled out the incident being an accident, Xinhua news agency reports that there was a suicide letter in which he apologized to his father.  The employee was reported to have only been working at Foxconn for one and a half months.  He came from Central China and graduated from a vocational school.

There are not a lot more details about this most recent incident in Chinese media, although I noticed two news articles of interest.  The first article (link in Chinese) describes a group of Chinese “netizens” teaming up to do their own undercover investigation of Foxconn’s labor conditions.  The netizens started the effort via postings on the popular BBS (bulletin board system, discussion forums hugely popular in China) Tianya.  According to the lead organizer, over 100 people phoned him, and 8 traveled to Shenzhen.  They met up with 4 Foxconn employees to form a group of 12, all of which are migrant workers.  In terms of profession, 2 worked in human resources, 5 were ordinary workers, 2 were in legal, 1 was a teacher, and 2 were “other”.  The average age was 28.

The 8 external netizens all applied to Foxconn, and 3 were hired.  The 5 un-hired did interviews around the production base, while the 3 hired worked for 3 days.  They self-published a report on the Internet of their findings (attached in the article linked above).  In sum, they found Foxconn toprovide good facilities for its employees and observed most Chinese labor regulations (insurance etc.), and paid wages on time (delayed payment is a huge issue for Chinese migrant workers).  They also highlighted several issues that had been pointed out by other commentators previously – Foxconn employees routinely worked more than the 36 hours of maximum monthly over-time mandated by the law (though Foxconn claims employees worked over-time voluntarily, and signed such a contract as proof); Foxconn enforces a “semi-military” management style in which supervisors often verbally (or even physically) abused employees; the lack of a union to protect employee rights; Foxconn’s use of its shady security force (which assaulted a Reuters journalistearlier this year).

The second article, reprinted by QQ Tech, reveals that there had been two other deaths at another Foxconn plant earlier this year.  The incidents happened in Foxconn’s Langfang (in northern China, quite close to Beijing) plant.  The first death was on January 8, and Mr. Rong Bo fell from dormitory building A06; one and a half months later, Ms. Wang Lingyan was found dead in her dormitory bed.  In the case of Ms. Wang, at the time of death she was only 16, so by Chinese law she had been working under-age.  She had used another person’s (Ms. Wang Lingfeng, 22 years old, presumably a cousin or other relative) ID card to apply for the job.  If I read the article correctly, Ms. Wang had only been at Foxconn for a few days and hadn’t even started work before her sudden death (doctors declared her to have suffered a heart failure).

According to the article, Foxconn had communicated with the local government to “control the news”, which is quite common in China.  They settled with Ms. Wang’s family, for a sum of RMB 110,000 (US$16,109), which roughly equates to 5 years of salary at RMB 2,000 per month (US$ 293), although Foxconn tactfully termed the payment a “donation” instead of “compensation”.

I think these reports confirm that while Foxconn might be mostly complying with Chinese labor law, it is not enough due to the scale of their operations; and in some cases, there are some questionable practices and at least a lack of proper oversight.  I hope as these reports continue Foxconn and other companies in China can drastically improve their labor conditions.


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