From the assembly line to the suicide line

If Foxconn, the largest electronic componant factory in the world was entering a contest, it would probably be that of the most suicide attempts. There was number 1, 2, 3… and five months later, there was a number 16..and Foxconn keeps counting.
Now don’t we all enjoy our iPod, iPhone, Wii, Playstation 3 and the likes? Well, all those little parts we’re always worried will break come from Foxconn. So shouldn’t we be all one sided and empathize with the company’s management to keep in line its small army of 300 000 employees at the Shenzhen factory ? Imagine the nightmare of, let’s say, organising a company picnic ? Logistics, transportation, activities and lunch. How do you make policies for so many undereducated, underpaid and overworked disgruntled employees while suffering from shrinking margins ? < Well, the Military does a great job addressing these issues. Although the company preaches that it single handedly saved the region out of depression and paved the way of progress, government projects, scholarships, taxes, civil infrastructure, who are we to judge the management military style conduct and inhumane treatment of employees ? Excruciating working conditions brought to light by the China Business News much earlier in the year, much before attempt number 16. Since than, the two journalists’ have been sued by Foxconn for Disambiguation and Defamation, their assests were frozen and if it wasn’t for Reporters without Borders’s urging Steve Jacobs (CEO of Apple) to take action, the two would probably be working the assembly lines at Foxconn. I guess it pays to have judges in your pocket. Regardless of HP, Nokia and Apple’s attempted investigation inside the factory about the work conditions, it is clear that Chinese employee who actually have to pay a monthly fee to keep their job, could –and will- loose everything if they talk too much. But as we understand it, Foxconn is far from the dream factory : employees are paid 1 000 rmb (100 euros) for a 18 hours day job with one day off a month ; 100 rmb is deducted for each minute delay and the same every time they’re caught talking while working. Workers can be removed from the work-line for over a month if they refuse to work overtime while everything they own must be bought at a pre-designated store on site. To avoid ‘factory mutiny’ or strikes, employees from the same region are never sharing rooms, instead the 12 dorm-mates come from different regions and speak different dialects. And yet, Terry Gou still insists that the series of suicides have nothing to do with Foxconn’s management ? In the full glare of the media spotlight, Mr Gou was forced to retract –shamelessly- an anti-suicide agreement he wanted his employees to sign and that stipulated the families could only recieve the minimum compensation as ordered by the Chinese law. Some reporters suspect Foxconn having given the families of suicide victims 110 000 rmb to the parents could have lead these workers to use their deaths to exchange financial security for their families. This view is indeed cold-blooded but if it’s true than it’s our entire society’s responsability and tragedy. However, it seems to us that short of barring all the windows and locking all the doors to all the rooftops -why on earth were they open in the first place ?- that letter represented the best chance of getting the suicides to stop. But where Foxconn doesn’t seem to feel too bad about the 16 suicide attempts – apart maybe for its bank account-, the Chinese media is effectively censoring itself citing a Marylin Monroe-esque suicide wave – suicides rate rose by 12% in the U.S. after her death was reported- that’s been burgeoned by both foreign and local newspaper actually talking about the issue. So as information goes, Chinese media are now only allowed to republish news from three sources : Xinhua News Agency – state owned and state controlled-, the Government Press Release and Foxconn’s own statements which are now going through more archaic channels…like faxing ! But we’re proudly taking the risk of talking about it anyway. After all, would suicides like these even have the chance to catch on if Foxconn wasn’t an amazingly terrible place to work ? Now that you know your iPhones, Wii and the like come at the expense of not animal testing but of human suffering, what will you do about the hundred of thousands of other product made in Chinese sweatshops  for our precious comfort ? 

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