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It looks like the scourge of suicide at Foxconn continues unabated: a 21-year-old Foxconn employee fell from the sixth floor of a factory dormitory in the Longhua district (龙华) of Shenzhen on the 18th. Foxconn is of course the infamous manufacturing giant that produces iPhones, iPads, Xbox’s, Playstation 3’s, and not to mention products for other clients like Dell, HP and Nokia. It is the third suicide this year, following incidents in January and May, and the 18th since the beginning of 2010 (other sources [in Chinese] have the number lower, at 16).
Reuters reports that the 21-year-old male worker, surnamed Cai (蔡), had only been working at Foxconn for a month, with an accumulated overtime total of only two hours, according to a senior company executive. There are even suggestions that Cai was drunk and accidentally fell to his death. However, the claim of minimal overtime hours worked seems questionable to say the least, as we can attest that working overtime shifts on a regular basis is standard operating procedure in Shenzhen. Especially since Foxconn’s clients include companies like Apple, who’s product is nearly always in high-demand throughout the world, a situation that leads to supply chains needing to consistently churn out high volumes of product.
But to Foxconn’s credit, there have been measures taken to deal with worker suicides, including the holding of parades, costume days and talent shows for employees, along with increased pay and working conditions.
However, the latest accident/suicide is sure to rehash another round of soul-searching in the media concerning the root causes of the trouble at Foxconn, where an unsettling number of suicides have now happened in the past half-decade (though the definite total remains unclear).
There are suggestions that the workers are underpaid, overstressed and simply unable to cope with the feeling of insignificance borne from working in factory complexes where employees number in the hundreds of thousands. Perhaps the ghost of outdated technologies haunts all employees making our smartphones and tablet computers in their waking hours. Should a mental-health exam be administered to anyone living higher than the third floor of their dormitory building?
Dismissive commentators suggest that in cities of similar size, a suicide here and there are par for the course. But tellingly, we once heard a factory worker in a portable dvd-player assembly line tell someone she didn’t like to ‘Go work at Foxconn’, in place of telling them to ‘Go to hell’ (去死吧).