Two more suicide bids at iPad plant hours after media tour

Clifford Coonan
Friday 28 May 2010 00:00 BST

The suicide crisis engulfing the Chinese electronics firm Foxconn showed no signs of abating yesterday after two more employees made attempts on their own lives, one of them successful.

A 25-year-old worker, surnamed Chen, cut his wrists yesterday in the 13th suicide attempt since January at the firm's southern Chinese plant. Mr Chen, from Hunan, who had been working at the Taiwanese company since March, was treated in time to save his life. Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, another employee, a 23-year-old migrant worker from Gansu province, had jumped to his death from the seventh-floor balcony of his dormitory building at the sprawling industrial complex in Shenzhen.

The factory, renowned for its efficiency, makes mobile phones, laptops and other digital equipment for a string of well-known clients, including Nokia, Hewlett Packard and Apple, whose new iPad device is produced there. Hewlett Packard and its fellow computer manufacturer Dell have joined Apple in registering their concern at the working practices at the factory, while Sony was also said to be assessing the company's practices yesterday.

The 13 suicide attempts at the plant have resulted in 10 deaths, casting a shadow over the official launch day of the iPad in Britain and tarnishing Foxconn's image.

The deaths are thought to be related to working conditions at the plant – long hours for poor pay and constant pressure to perform. Some have also suggested that workers from families living in poverty could be tempted to kill themselves in the belief that their relatives would gain compensation. Foxconn has been forced to withdraw a letter that employees were asked to sign, promising that they would not try to take their own lives.

The company's chairman, Terry Guo, had barely left the plant on Wednesday, leading a tour for journalists in an attempt to manage the public relations crisis, when the latest victim jumped to his death. Mr Guo flew back to Shenzhen when he heard of the latest developments in the suicide crisis.

The company is building an enormous safety net to stop people jumping to their deaths, but yesterday's attempted suicide by a young man trying to slash his wrists shows that such efforts will not deter workers who are determined to take their lives. The sprawling factory employs more than 300,000 people, out of a total workforce in the area of 400,000, and is located just across the border from Hong Kong.

Many of the employees earn just over £90 a month. Mr Guo admitted to reporters that he couldn't sleep at night and dreaded answering his telephone, fearing more news about suicides.

The company is part of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Company and is the world's largest contract maker of electronics. A huge proportion of common electronic items have some parts made by Foxconn. Across China, the company employs 800,000 people.

There is pressure now on the company, and on the companies that benefit from the cheap labour there, to resolve the reasons why young people are taking their lives in such numbers. All of the dead are between 18 and 24 years of age.

More psychological counsellors were being hired, and Buddhist monks have been offering spiritual guidance.

Labour activists have long said the rigid style of operation and long working hours were a recipe for disaster. Critics add that the kind of work people have to do at Foxconn – soul-destroying piecework with little respite in an oppressively difficult atmosphere – is making people depressed and, in at least 13 cases so far, suicidal.

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