Tenth worker at iPad factory commits suicide

The Foxconn factory in the southern Chinese boom town of Shenzhen is so vast that walking around its outer perimeter takes two hours. Its workers turn out components that are supplied to big Western electronics brands including Nokia, Hewlett-Packard and Dell. And it is here that most of the parts for Apple's iPhone, and the much-awaited iPad, which goes on sale in the UK this week, are manufactured.

Yesterday, Li Hai, a 19-year-old employee of the firm, jumped from the top of the building in Shenzhen to his death. It brought the number of suspected suicides at the factory this year to 10. There have been another two attempted suicides.

All of the deaths have been of youngsters between 18 and 25 years old. Li Hai had only been working at the plant for 42 days. The incidents have prompted intense soul-searching in China, about conditions in its factories and the social cost of breakneck economic development.

Foxconn, one of the world's largest manufacturers of electronic equipment, is huge. The chefs slaughter 6,000 pigs a day to feed the company's nearly 400,000 workers in this giant industrial complex, spread over 1.2 square miles.

But the Taiwanese owners now face a major problem. Li Hai's death, and those of his colleagues, have raised questions about working conditions in Chinese factories, with labour activists alleging that long hours, low pay and high pressure make for an unbearable working environment.

Chinese media have suggested that what is driving the suicides is the feeling among the workers that they are machines. Many start work at 4am, then go through the motions thousands of times over during their often long shifts. "Every shift we finish 4,000 Dell computers, all the while standing up," one Foxconn worker told China Labour Watch for a recent report.

In July, a Foxconn worker committed suicide when the company held an inquiry into the disappearance of an iPhone prototype, for which he had had been considered responsible. The founder of Foxconn's parent company in Taiwan, Hon Hai Precision, Terry Gou denied that his factories were sweatshops and he was confident the situation would be resolved soon.

The company, which employs over 800,000 workers around the world, is now playing soothing music along the production lines. Over 2,000 singers, dancers and gym trainers have been recruited, and the group is also hiring psychiatrists and Buddhist monks to help with stress. New fences are also being installed on every worker's dormitory building, according to local media, which are up to three metres high and are meant to prevent suicidal workers from jumping off the roof.

But local media said the workers, many of whom are migrants and isolated from their home communities, found the fences even more depressing. "Young workers born during 1980s or 1990s are becoming the mainstream of our workforce. In this context, the Foxconn employee 'jumping' incidents should arouse the vigilance of the whole society. Companies, government and society should pay more attention to the spiritual crisis of young lives," said the Xinhua news agency in an editorial.

Zhang Ming, a political science professor at the People's University of China, said workers were reacting to feeling as if they were machines or spare parts. "To many post-Eighties or post-Nineties migrant workers, it is unbearable for them to live in a place without cultural entertainment and communications with their friends. They are psychologically weak. The Foxconn 'jumping' incident is a call for life."

One worker told the Southern Weekend newspaper that he would deliberately drop something on the ground so that he could have a few seconds of rest when picking it up.

Nine mainland Chinese and Hong Kong academics have issued an open statement calling on Foxconn and the government to do more for the workers. "China's development strategy throughout these 30 years not only accomplished an economic miracle, it deepened regional inequalities, prolonged stagnation of wages, and deprived migrant workers' citizenship and human rights," it said.

Hou, a 19-year-old Hunan worker, was found hanging in the toilet of her dormitory room. Ma Xiangqian, 19, from Henan, jumped on January 23, and Foxconn was forced to refute local reports that he had been assigned to cleaning toilets after damaging equipment by accident. A shift typically lasts between 10 and 12 hours and staff complain that overseers enforce military-style discipline.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before