Only joined iPhone manufacturer last month
Foxconn has reported the death of another worker due to suicide, the first such incident in 2012. The death is being investigated by authorities, as the 23-year-old worker had only just joined the company within the last month and may have been suicidal prior to working for Foxconn. The Chinese manufacturing conglomerate suffered a rash of suicides in 2010, but has seen steadily fewer following rounds of reforms.
Contrary to much US reporting, Foxconn’s suicide rate has always been much lower than the suicide rate of the Chinese population at large, less than one-tenth the national average. The death marks the first reported Foxconn suicide of 2012. It is also the first since the company agreed to work with its US clients, which include all the major electronics makers but most notably Apple, to improve work conditions and plant safety along with raising wages. The company raised salaries from 16 to 25 percent just last February.
Apple, unlike the other US companies that have their equipment made by Foxconn, has been seen to be aggressively tackling the problems of Chinese factories, which are known to engage in “sweatshop” conditions. Foxconn has been working to reduce any questionable practices (such as pressure to work overtime or hiring underage workers), but these have been seen as being in remission since worldwide scrutiny and pressure from Apple has been applied. Other client companies of Foxconn, including Microsoft, Nokia and Dell, have been conspicuously silent on the problems.
The company employs over 1.2 million people at its various facilities, which are set up like enclosed villages with malls, entertainment and sports facilities — along with dormitory-style living quarters that keep the workers on-campus nearly constantly. The arrangement ensures a steady worker supply, and Foxconn positions are highly coveted among the young workforce that often seeks to escape the poverty-ridden lifestyle of the rural provinces.
Many workers see themselves as temporarily working for Foxconn to help them escape the countryside and move up to a more middle-class existence, as well as help their impoverished families. The large concentration of youthful workers in the factory compounds has also presented problems, such as the recent rioting over the quality and price of the food served at the Chengdu factory — around 100 workers were said to have clashed with guards.
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