Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

Summary: Around 300 workers at a Foxconn plant climbed on to the roof and threatened to commit suicide over pay-cuts, conditions, and lack of compensation. Is enough being done for the workers?

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TOPICS: CXO, IT Employment
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When 300 men and women climb onto a rooftop and threaten to commit suicide in protest over denied compensation, it is impossible not to wonder how a company could lead its employees into such desperation.

But Foxconn did.

A little over a week ago, 300 employees at Foxconn's Technology Park in Wuhan, China threatened their own lives because they were denied a vital pay increase. Foxconn told them they could either keep their jobs without it, or they could quit and be compensated.

Many chose to quit, but the company terminated the agreement, and none of the former workers received the promised compensation.

Production at the company was temporarily halted. It was not until 9 pm the next day that the town's mayor was able to talk the 300 down from the roof.

Foxconn has been at the center of some considerably uncomfortable controversy over the last two years, after its high suicide rates and poor working conditions came to light. In total, it is thought 14 workers committed suicide in 2010.

Although previously the company's suicide rate was well below the country's average, it's hard to downplay those numbers now.

Foxconn installed suicide nets at their factory last year, and workers in Chengdu are required to sign a "no suicide" pact in their contracts.

These are just a few of the many small details that add up to a more worrying whole.

Some are already wondering why they would choose suicide as their means of protest. But there are no unions for them to join, and striking would be ineffectual as they could just be replaced.

The truth of this situation is that their lives are the only thing they really have to fight with, and threatening suicide might have been the only way these workers could get their employers to take notice.

Even that, sadly, might not be enough. "If they were concerned about lessening human suffering, they would improve worker conditions and raise wages. Profit maximisation is the name of the game," one Reddit user commented.

The company intends to increase the number of robots used in the factory from 10,000 to a million in the next three years, according to Foxconn chairman Thierry Gou. It is not hard to see why; the reason given is to deal with rising salary costs.

With over 1.2 million workers to consider in mainland China, Foxconn is thinking with numbers in mind.

From a more individual perspective, this increase could be seen as a way that Foxconn is trying to improve the situation for their workers. The demand for the products made by the company for Apple, Microsoft and other major consumer brands is not going to wane any time soon.

Everybody wants a part of the growing market, and in the end the costs will add up in both wages, but also in human lives. It might be 14 suicides in 2010, but that could become 300 in 2012, as these protesters showed.

Would increasing the number of robots on factory lines improve working conditions for Foxconn's human workers? It might save them from having to do the kinds of jobs that could leave their health damaged, but it also might leave them desperate and out of work.

As many people have been saying, "a bad job is better than no job".

We tend to think of China as being a dominant, growing superpower in a time of global recession, without considering the wider implications of how any company or any country can build profits, and succeed with no sacrifice.

In Asia, working hours are expected to be long, and conditions can often be tough. Everyday on the Tokyo Metro, hundreds of salarymen can be seen catching up on sleep in tiny minute-long snippets -- anywhere they can -- and it is considered culturally normal.

They are not joking when they tell you that this city never sleeps. There is never a time when the noise stops. It is an ever-constant groan on the lives of millions.

Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and the picture of China does not bode well either. An estimated quarter of a million people in China commit suicide every year out of a population of 1.3 billion. When you look at that statistically, the workers at Foxconn would still be seen as a drop in the ocean.

Foxconn is probably only one of many companies and factories that tell the same story.

Looking back, the question might not be "why" employees of Foxconn are committing suicide, but, "is enough being done" to prevent it?

In the last two years, when critical focus on Foxconn has been at its highest, it seems the steps taken have not been enough. Will the protest of three hundred lives make a difference to that?

Image source: CNET.

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Topics: CXO, IT Employment

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  • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

    Also your statistics is wrong. You look at statistics for the whole population at all times. If you want to compare apples to apples... so to speak... you need to look at the average suicide rates at work. They may be lower or higher, I do not know. But comparing Foxconn suicide rates to the total population is not appropriate.<br>It is possible that the unemployed make up a large portion of the suicides for example and without those Foxconn rates could skyrocket comparative to the rest.
    "If you don't have an Ipad... you may be socially responsible."
    kirovs
    • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

      @kirovs@... <br><br>When talking about Foxconn, there is not a distinction between "at work" suicides, and just suicides. The company owns the dorms, shops, grocery stores etc. <br><br>When I ran the numbers the Foxconn suicide rates, even at the height of the drama, were not only lower than the Chinese average, but also lower than the US average. <br><br>I think the keyword here about these 300 is "threatening" suicide. They have seen how the suicides have caused dramatic increases in salaries and benefits, ie, they have seen that suicide is a useful bargaining chip. Hard to say how many of the 300 were bluffing and how many would really have carried it out.<br><br>Not to say that the conditions aren't hard, or that it is not worth trying to improve other peoples lives where possible, but it is generally worth remembering that people are not forced to work in places like Foxconn. They are there, putting up with the conditions, because it is better than their other alternatives. Good intentions can sometimes end up shutting down that option entirely for them and forcing them back to worse alternatives.
      SlithyTove
      • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

        @SlithyTove
        So you know for sure that the suicide rate did include not only those jumping off Foxconn buildings, but also out of their workplace. Is this really the case? Or you are speculating?
        The question you bring about killing a better alternative is fair. There is a need to push China to get real labor protection laws, non-government unions, etc. It is wild, 18 century capitalism in this "communist" country for certain.
        kirovs
  • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

    People in the US, especially the Republicans and anti-union folks, would like to forget the past history of this nation and the abuse of workers that went on for too long. Keep this story on the front page until the next election. People need to remember. People need to support unions.
    mstrsfty
    • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

      @mstrsfty

      Unions have done much to improve the conditions and pay of workers in many countries. They have also done as much, if not worse, than "big business" to harm workers. You need only look at the incredible levels of corruption within unions throughout history; corruption that continues to this day. People need to remember.
      Wakemewhentrollsgone
      • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

        @Habiloso

        You and mstrsfty summarize the choice of two abuses. (not evils).

        I'd prefer to have a decent job (even if that job had only a temporary time duration) with union abuses than work in a sweat shop, suicide conducive environment without employee union representation.
        kenosha77a
      • Yes, we remember how unions ruined your auto industry

        @Habiloso
        as well as many other companies with their beliefs that they should be paid much more then their positions were worth, and that seniority, not their poor work attitute or limited skill set as the basis for employment.

        Look to your auto industry in the south: a higher quality vehicle built by a highly compensated, well benefitted non union work force for proof of that.

        :|
        Tim Cook
      • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

        @Mister Spock

        I am from Australia, not the USA. Like the USA, we have many highly respected and ethical unions. We also have a history of corrupt unions eg the current building unions and historically the Painters and Dockers union (in Melbourne). There is also an ongoing issue with the Health Services Union. I've no problem with unions, per se, and I was a member of a very professional and respected union for more than 20 years.
        Wakemewhentrollsgone
      • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

        @Mister Spock
        You have this example. Fine. Do you know that kids 8 years old used to work in the coal mines. Less than a century ago. An exception from the rule proves nothing.
        kirovs
      • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

        @Mister Spock
        +1
        William Farrel
      • kirovs@..., the key words in your reply is

        @Habiloso
        [b]used to[/b]
        In todays age, you'd be hard pressed to find a company that still treats workers that way thats still in business.

        Unions had their use, but now they're gone, as too many companies have found that unions make them uncompetitive, while offering nothing in return.

        There are tons of non union companies that are doing just fine, while treating their employess rather nicely. I work at one of those companies, and as Spock pointed out, I let my experience do the talking, not my age, which is why I am always employed.
        William Farrel
      • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

        @William Farrel<br>Once you get rid of the unions how long before we see 8 year olds in West Virginia loosing limbs in the mines. Take a guess.
        Not to mention there are quite a few companies that mistreat employees right here at US. Coal industry is a good place to start looking at. Massey Energy anyone folks?
        kirovs
      • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

        @Habiloso

        Here's how Amazon treats its employees:
        http://www.mcall.com/news/local/amazon/mc-allentown-amazon-complaints-20110917,0,6503103.story

        And how about Walmart?
        http://www.pbs.org/itvs/storewars/stores3.html

        It would be better if you knew what you were talking about. Labor Unions undergo extensive scrutiny: Corruption isn't easy when the government is constantly looking over your shoulder. Here's just a little taste: http://www.dol.gov/compliance/guide/unions.htm
        msalzberg
    • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

      @mstrsfty Unions are one of the things wrong with this country. Unions promote low quality at a very high price. Unions attract the worst class of worker: Lazy jerks that feel entitled to a high wage, for minimal work.
      Rick_Kl
      • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

        @Rick_Kl

        I am not from the USA, but I suspect that you comment is a rather broad and unfair generalisation.
        Wakemewhentrollsgone
      • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

        @Habiloso no it is not a rather broad and unfair generalization. Unions served a purpose at one point, but they have long outlived their usefulness. there are plenty of low skilled workers that gravitate towards Union shops for a reason. High pay for low quality work. I have a friend that used to be a service writer at a dealer of one brand of domestic car. The things he saw would scare any thinking person away from that brand for life. there wee minor things (tools left in cars) and there were major things 9wrong, or missing parts (one time it was one of the motor mounts)Impact wrenches in the engine bay, with a section of air hose attached. The list is quite long. The thing that really scares me is the Union doesn???t see anything wrong with shipping a $45,000 pickup truck with half of the motor,and transmission, mounts missing (or missing bolts) These are things that can lead to a serious accident. But the Union cares more about the employee leaving a few minutes early, rather than finishing the job correctly.
        Rick_Kl
      • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

        @Rick_Kl
        Let's say you remove unions today altogether. How many years before the labour conditions deteriorate to 18 century level?
        Also no matter what you say your observations are very limited- you had a friend, etc., etc.. So it is a very broad generalisation on your part.
        I have bad and good interactions with union workers. And I have no problem with well paid workers. I have a problem with poorly paid ones like those in "communist" China.
        kirovs
      • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

        @Rick_Kl

        Unions to this day can still serve a purpose. Though like many a business, it's hard to find one that fulfills it's intended purpose without some form of corruption.

        If they protect the employees from corporate abuse in some fashion, then that's fine. But far, far too often the employees use the union to abuse employers.
        Badgered
      • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

        @Rick_Kl I call bullsh1t on this.

        [b]Unions are one of the things wrong with this country. [/b]

        Stop drinking the right wing kool aid for a minute and cough up some proof.[b]

        Unions promote low quality at a very high price. [/b]

        Really? That is completely at odds with my own experience working for a union and working non union. In a non union environment it's quantity over quality, within the union it is quality and workmanship that is emphasized.[b]

        Unions attract the worst class of worker: Lazy jerks that feel entitled to a high wage, for minimal work.[/b]

        Again this is completely at odds with my own experiences as it is far easier to - in the construction trades - to work for a non union company and do slipshod work than it is to work for a union company and get laid off for doing slipshod work.
        athynz
      • RE: Chinese workers threaten suicide at Foxconn: Not 'why', but 'is enough being done'?

        @Rick_Kl And that's why some of the best new cars made today are American-branded and built in American factories by American union workers.

        Keep on drinking that Koch Tea.
        Champ_Kind