Foxconn tackles worker suicides with ‘contracts’ and nets
Apple's manufacturer in southern China is taking measures to curb suicides among its workers after a new death on Tuesday, including letters signed by employees promising not to kill themselves and nets around the building.
AFP - Apple manufacturer Foxconn was taking extraordinary measures Wednesday to safeguard its business and workers following a spate of suicides at its sprawling plant in southern China.
Workers have reportedly been told to sign letters promising not to kill themselves and even agreeing to be sent to psychiatric institutions if they appear to be in an "abnormal mental or physical state for the protection of myself and others".
Nets were also reportedly being hung around buildings to deter suicidal employees.
The measures came after a 19-year-old employee fell to his death at the Shenzhen factory on Tuesday -- the ninth apparent suicide at the enormous site this year.
The deaths have raised questions about conditions for millions of factory workers in China, especially at Foxconn, where labour activists and employees say long hours, low pay and high pressure are the norm.
Terry Gou, chairman of Foxconn's Taiwanese parent company Hon Hai Precision, flew into the booming city of Shenzhen aboard his private jet on Wednesday with reporters, whom he urged to see the factory for themselves.
Labour activists in nearby Hong Kong called Tuesday for a boycott of the next generation of Apple's iPhone, which is assembled by Foxconn, days ahead of the international launch of the iPad.
The Taiwanese technology giant, which also boasts Dell and Hewlett-Packard among its clients, has defended its practices and Gou on Monday said he was not running "blood and sweat factories".
"You know, Hon Hai has more than 800,000 workers worldwide, and it's not easy to manage such a large team," he said.
But workers spoke of long hours, harsh supervisors and low pay.
A 21-year-old employee from the southern province of Guangxi told the South China Morning Post how she worked 12-hours a day, six days a week.
"The atmosphere inside our workplaces is so tight and depressing that we're not allowed to speak to each other for 12 hours or you'll be reproached by your supervisors."
Another worker, from the central province of Hunan, complained that the assembly line moved too fast and she had to check thousands of motherboards for electronic gadgets every day.
The 22-year-old's monthly salary, including overtime, was only 2,000 yuan (300 dollars) -- about the same as the US price of a 32 gigabyte iPhone.
"I feel like I have an empty life and work like a machine," she told the paper.
Foxconn is taking bizarre action to try to prevent further suicides -- notably getting staff to sign a letter promising not to kill themselves, according to Taiwan's CTI cable TV channel.
Roof patrols are also being arranged and nets installed around buildings to deter suicidal workers, it added.
"If they jump, they'll fall into the safety nets, so their lives will be saved," a contractor told the channel.
The Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper on Wednesday published a photo of a memo with a Foxconn letterhead that it said all employees were being asked to sign.
The letter instructed employees to report to a supervisor or seek medical help if they experienced any difficulties or frustration.
"I promise never to hurt myself or others in an extreme manner," said a pledge section of the letter.
The letter also contained a section asking employees to allow the company to send them to a medical institution if they appeared to be in an "abnormal mental or physical state for the protection of myself and others".
One Foxconn worker told the newspaper he had refused to sign because the company was seeking the right to institutionalise employees.
"If I bicker with my supervisor, will I be sent to a mental hospital?" the employee told the paper.
But there was no shortage of people trying to get through the factory gates. Around 8,000 people apply to work at the factory every day, Foxconn spokesman Liu Kun told the state-run China Daily newspaper.
The company came under pressure from Beijing Wednesday, as China's Taiwan Affairs Office said it was working with Foxconn to implement "effective measures".
"We are deeply sorry for the Foxconn employees who jumped to their death," the office's spokesman, Yang Yi, told a news conference.
Yang said the suicides would have no impact on China's relations with self-ruled Taiwan.