Hong Kong/Taipei: An employee of iPhone-maker Foxconn jumped to his death late on Wednesday, Chinese state media reported, the tenth suspected suicide this year at the high-tech company’s huge production base in southern China.
Separately, three Taiwan TV stations reported that another person, a young woman, had also jumped late on Wednesday but had survived with serious injuries. If the report is confirmed that would bring to total number of falls to 13, with three survivors.
The spate of apparent suicides have thrown a spotlight on the labour practices of Foxconn, a unit of Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry, whose clients include Apple, Hewlett Packard and Sony Ericsson.
Apple and other clients have said they are investigating working conditions at Foxconn, which has come under fire for its harsh and secretive corporate culture.
Foxconn has 420,000 employees based in Shenzhen. They live inside the factory complex and churn out products for the world’s leading computer and phone companies in round-the-clock shifts.
Just hours before the latest reports, Foxconn chairman Terry Gou had toured the company’s sprawling facilities in Shenzhen with reporters and vowed to take sweeping action to prevent more deaths.
Gou made another trip back to the plant on Thursday following the Wednesday media tour. Pictures on Taiwan TV stations showed him boarding his private jet.
Safety Nets Installed
China’s official Xinhua news agency said the latest death involved a worker who fell from a dormitory window, but gave no other details.
When asked about the reports of the young female jumper, a police source in Guanlan and Longhua districts, where two Foxconn factories are located, said: “I haven’t heard of any incidents this morning.”
Foxconn shares rose 3.2% in a Hong Kong market up 0.8%, having fallen to a seven month low earlier this week. Hon Hai shares fell 0.4% in Taiwan, with the broader market up 1.1%. Hon Hai officials were not immediately available for comment on Thursday.
The firm was training about 100 mental health counsellors and installing 1.5 million square metres of nets to stop workers from jumping, Xinhua said.
The safety nets will cover nearly all dormitories and factories.
“Although this seems like a dumb measure, at least it could save a life should anyone else fall,” Gou was quoted as saying.
In a report to clients, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch said that while the incidents would affect Hon Hai’s image, they are unlikely to cause a significant impact on earnings, a view echoed by UBS, which noted that Hon Hai remains a “top-notch supplier”.
Labour groups say the rash of apparent suicides has exposed the harsh working conditions at Foxconn.
Li Ping, secretary general of the Shenzhen municipal government, told a news conference on Wednesday that the pressure of being away from home with little care from society was part of a complex set of factors underpinning the suicides by the employees, mainly people under the age of 30.
He said the government was joining with the police and Foxconn to consider a range of ideas such as building up sports and cultural facilities to improve the living environment, Xinhua reported.
In another sign of unrest in southern China, Japanese car maker Honda said a labour dispute had shut down one of it parts plants, causing the closure of four car making plants.
The region is home to millions of migrant workers, many isolated from their families and facing a bleak, low-paid existence on production lines.