You know things are getting out of hand when the Chinese government criticizes your labor conditions. Some might consider that the definition of irony, but that is exactly what has happened, as a high ranking Chinese official has demanded that Foxconn stop the suicides.
Hon Hai, the Taiwanese based company that owns Foxconn has seen 11 suicides this year, with at least ten more attempts. In response, Foxconn has tried a number of approaches to stem the tide, including a stress room where employees can beat away their anger on dummies, counseling, and most recently a contract requiring employees to promise not to kill themselves- the letter has since been retracted after an employee slit his wrists.
Now the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Chinese government is getting involved. On Saturday, the top Communist Party of Guangdong (the region in which the Foxconn Shenzhen plant is located), Wang Yang, demanded that Foxconn improve conditions and argued that improved unions could help.
“[The government and Hon Hai must] work together and take effective measures to prevent similar tragedies from happening again,” Yang, the Provincial Party Secretary said. “Labor unions in private firms should be improved to facilitate better working conditions and more harmonious relations between workers and employers.”
The suicide rate is low compared to rural China, but factory workers tend to have a lower suicide rate than most, and the number of males that have died is unusually high- rural Chinese women account for half of all of Chinese suicides, and urban females making up most of the rest.
Earlier this year, the Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly sent in a reporter, Liu Zhi Yi, undercover. Liu reported that the conditions were “hellish”, and he felt that the employees that had taken their own lives saw it as the only way to escape the horrific working conditions. Liu claimed that the plant made employees work around the clock, with breaks only to eat or sleep. Employees work without overtime pay and earn roughly $130 per month.
Hon Hai has promised a 20 percent wage increase (although they say that it was planned and not in relation to the suicides), as investigations from Nintendo, Apple, HP and Dell make headlines and continue to draw attention to the Chinese factory.