Another Foxconn Worker Commits Suicide In China

GUANGZHOU, China (AP) -- A string of suicides at Foxconn Technology Group has raised concerns about conditions for workers at one of China's most prolific factories — a massive complex that churns out iPods, iPads, Dell computers and numerous other big-selling gadgets.

The latest suicide, which happened early Friday, was the eighth reported at the factory this year. A ninth suicide at a separate Foxconn factory was also reported Friday.

The official Xinhua News Agency quoted police as saying migrant worker Nan Gang, 21, jumped from a four-story building about a half-hour after finishing a night shift at the company's vast complex in the southern city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong. It was unclear if Nan, who worked in the logistics department, was motivated by work-related issues.

Labor activists have long alleged that Foxconn factories are hellish places to work — where employees face tremendous pressure and harsh discipline for mistakes. Rights investigators, however, acknowledge the suicides could be linked to other personal factors such as failed romances or career disappointments in China's increasingly competitive society.

Foxconn is part of Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. — a corporate behemoth that has also produced computers for Hewlett-Packard Co., PlayStation game consoles for Sony Corp. and mobile phones for Nokia Corp. Its Shenzhen complex employs 300,000 people.

Notorious for its secrecy, the company did not immediately comment on the latest fatality. Earlier this month, when a 24-year-old worker jumped to her death, company spokesman Arthur Huang did not explain why the worker died, but said that employees enjoy world-class treatment and that Foxconn's social responsibility programs ensure their welfare.

After that suicide, Foxconn did not respond to an Associated Press request to tour the Shenzhen operations.

Also Friday, Xinhua reported that another worker, Rong Bo, 19, leapt off a building and killed himself on Jan. 8 in a Foxconn plant in the northern city of Langfang in Hebei province. Officials confirmed his death Friday after relatives reported it to the media, Xinhua said.

It is hard to gauge whether the number of deaths at Foxconn is abnormally high as there have been no studies about suicide rates for such a population of mostly migrant workers in China. The government and other large factories here are traditionally silent about such issues, and it is difficult to get figures that can be used for comparison.

In the United States, Cornell University in New York state has reported six suicides this academic year at the Ivy League school with a student body of 20,000 — less than 7 percent the size of Foxconn's work force. Cornell says its suicide rate over time is normal for colleges.

Li Qiang, founder of New York-based China Labor Watch, said his group has investigated suicides at Foxconn and other factories and has found a range of causes, such as failed romances, unplanned pregnancies, financial pressures or professional dreams that have gone sour.

But he said Foxconn employees complained in interviews about the length of the 10 to 12 hour shifts they work. The production line moves fast, and workers live in fear of making mistakes as military-style managers watch over them in a sterile, joyless environment, he said.

"It is true that Foxconn provides workers with a complaint box and a hot line for psychological assistance," Li wrote in a report published this week. "But few workers have ever used any of these channels."

"Some workers are even worried that if they appeal for help, the administrators will deliberately make things more difficult for them."

As wages continue to rise in China, factories are forced to increase productivity, run leaner operations and squeeze more out of workers. This could be adding to the pressure on China's work force.

Anita Chan, a Chinese labor expert at the University of Technology in Sydney, said that Foxconn has struggled to overcome a reputation for bad labor practices. The company is especially known for a strict approach to managing laborers that was popular in the 1990s.

"In a factory when the discipline is tough, it comes down level-by-level from the top, and the shop floor becomes unbearable," she said. "I would have thought due to the bad publicity, Foxconn might have cleaned up its act a bit, but it perhaps hasn't."

The highest-profile Foxconn death happened last July when Sun Danyong, 25, jumped to his death after being interrogated over a missing iPhone prototype.

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