Friday, June 15, 2012

A new Foxconn suicide, just three months after Apple affirms changes at Chinese manufacturers

Two years after a series of suicides rocked the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China, another worker has jumped to his death, this time in Chengdu, a city in southwest - but still central - China's Sichuan province (Shenzhen is located in the very southwest part of China, in Guangdong Province).

The 23-year-old worker fell to his death from his apartment, which was located outside the Chengdu plant, according to a statement issued by Foxconn. The employee was new, having joined the company just last month; authorities are investigating the death.

The above image was taken from the official Chengdul Police website, although authorities have begun scrubbing the incident from the public domain. It shows the alleged jumper atop his building.

Foxconn assembles products for many technology firms, including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Nokia, but it is primarily associated with Apple, currently the world's most valuable company by market capitalization and the maker of the iPad, iPhone, iOS, MacBooks, and much more.

Despite Foxconn's wide reach, Apple - no one else - came under sharp criticism earlier this year when a New York Times report detailed harsh conditions at Foxconn facilities. The same close analysis of the Cupertino, Calif.-based company occurred during the series of 2010 suicides.

In spite of Apple's self-audits of its suppliers and OEM manufacturers, which have gone on for years, the Times reported made headlines. After it was published, the company joined the Fair Labor Association (FLA), becoming the first tech company to do so, and the FLA undertook an Apple-requested audit of the company's Chinese suppliers, beginning in February.

In March, both companies said they had reached an agreement to improve conditions in Foxconn plants. In an emailed statement, the organization SumOfUs, which is a world-wide movement for a better global economy, addressed the issue. Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Executive Director of said,

"First Apple investigated the issue and promised to treat workers fairly. Then a report came out saying things weren't improving, and might actually be getting worse. Now a worker has committed suicide. If this tragic suicide doesn't wake Apple up to the fact that working conditions are still atrocious in its Chinese factories, then what will? Our members will continue to hold Apple's feet to the fire until workers are treated ethically – meaning workers are paid a living wage and are allowed to form worker-led unions."

Less hours and less overtime, while seen externally as an improvement to the lives of Foxconn workers, aren't necessarily viewed as positives by the workers themselves, as those changes also translate to less money.

Earlier this month, a riot broke out at the same Chengdu facility. Some said the riot was related to fewer hours at the plant. Others, however, said the riot was unrelated to working conditions.

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