by Amanda Kloer
A growing string of worker suicides and attempts has plagued a Chinese factory operated by Foxconn, the China-based tech company that produces, among other products, the new Apple iPad. In the past month, four employees at a single factory have attempted suicide, and 11 workers have killed themselves since 2007. And perhaps even more telling, all four of the most recent attempts have taken place at the factory. What is happening to these workers that is causing so many to turn to suicide?
The Longhua-based factory where workers are jumping off the roof in growing numbers is huge. It’s actually the single largest assembly base for consumer electronics in the whole world. They employ and house around 300,000 workers on their massive compound. And when I say massive, I mean massive — a Foxconn consultant once turned up at the wrong entrance, and had to drive for 30 minutes to reach the next closest one. Foxconn, the company who runs this and other factories, is famously secretive and one of the least transparent companies in the world. In addition to the iPad, they also make products for some of the world’s leading electronic companies, including Sony, HP, Amazon, Nokia, Motorola, Nintendo, Microsoft, Dell and Cisco. Basically, if you own a computer, phone, iPod, Wii, Kindle, or printer, chances are it came from Longhua.
That means if there is something rotten in the state of Longhua, it’s not just affecting one company or a small percentage of consumers. It’s affecting almost every major electronics producers and millions, if not billions, of consumers who use their products. With such a volume of business at stake, Foxconn has a vested interest in making sure any pesky human rights issues at the factory don’t leak out or interfere with production. Perhaps that’s why they didn’t investigate the suicide of a worker last July, who jumped to her death after an iPhone prototype she was in charge of went missing. And perhaps that is why they’ve either refused to comment on the recent string of suicides, or brushed them off as the result of domestic disputes.
Suicide can be a symptom of human trafficking. In fact, some of the earliest human trafficking cases were brought to light because an increase of young, scantily-clad Eastern European women were turning up dead (later, it was determined, they had been forced into prostitution). For people who are living in slavery, under inhumane conditions and the threat of violence, suicide can sometimes seem like the only way out. It is possible that the string of suicides at the Foxconn factory are the result of slavery or other workplace abuses. It’s also possible that the company just happens to attract suicidal people. But 15 suicides or attempted suicides in four years, many of which were at work, seems like the sign that work is more than just a depressing place — it’s impossible to live through for some.
The Chinese government seems about as eager to push for an investigation of theses suicides as they are to let Google.cn change their homepage to Chinasucks.com. So it looks like any pressure on Foxconn will have to come from the companies whose products are made in their factory. And that pressure, in turn, will have to come from you. Should your new iPad cost someone his life?
Photo credit: myuibe