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Thursday, 27 May 2010 05:26

U.S. manufacturers look into Chinese factory suicides


Responding to a recent spate of worker suicides at the Foxconn manufacturing plant, Apple, Dell, and HP have announced separate investigations into working conditions at the factory.

Foxconn's facility in Shenzhen, China, is one of the largest contract electronics manufacturing plants in the country, housing and employing 300,000 people.

Since the beginning of the year, nine workers have died from falling off buildings at the plant; police have called seven of them suicides. In addition, two other worker have tried to kill themselves by jumping off a building but survived.

As reported in Bloomberg Businessweek, three U.S. clients of Foxconn (also known as the Hon Hai Group) have vowed to investigate the deaths and working conditions at Foxconn.

Apple spokesperson Steve Dowling said his company is "saddened and upset by the recent suicides at Foxconn."

"A team from Apple is independently evaluating the steps they are taking to address these tragic events and we will continue our ongoing inspections of the facilities where our products are made," vowed Dowling.

For HP and Dell's actions, see Page 2.

HP also confirmed to Bloomberg that it was investigating "the Foxconn practices that may be associated with these tragic events."

And a Dell spokesperson told CNet that company was on the case as well, saying that "we expect our suppliers to employ the same high standards we do in our own facilities."

Labor rights groups have long criticized Foxconn for its treatment of workers. Li Qiang, executive director of China Labor Watch, has said the company "tramples" its workers' value for the sake of efficiency.

And even the China Daily has weighed in with a critical editorial.

"Foxconn may not be a sweatshop in the sense that it physically abuses its employees or forces them to work extra hours," the paper wrote. "But that does not mean it is showing enough humanitarian concern for its employees. And, neither does it imply that it is doing enough to foster a corporate culture that helps employees strike a healthier work-life balance."

In an attempt to repair the company's image, Hon Hai chairman Terry Hou brought busloads of journalists to the factory to express his regret over the deaths and show off the plant's amenities.

For more on Foxconn's reaction, see Page 3.

Gou told reporters that he was having trouble sleeping at night because of the suicides.

At the same time, he insisted that most Foxconn workers were happy with their lives and work. "We want to make every worker have a happy life and work environment here," said the chairman.

The factory tour included a stop at the swimming pool and the company cafeteria. It also featured a stop at a counseling and hotline center.

Gou said he was confident the situation would get better, now that there were counselors on site to support workers.



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