The tragic death of a 31-year-old factory worker in Zhengzhou, China, has once again drawn attention toward the working conditions at Foxconn — the world’s biggest Apple iPhone manufacturing factory — that witnessed a series of similar incidents in previous years.
China Labor Watch, a U.S.-based nonprofit that advocates for workers' rights and supports the Chinese labor movement, identified the employee as Li Ming. He jumped from a 12-story window of the building and although the reason behind his death remains unclear, his colleagues reportedly told the local media Li was upset about not being able to obtain a “referral fee” from the employer.
Li was a dispatch worker and had been working at the company for two months. He used to live in factory dormitories, according to his father.
Foxconn is the single largest employer in mainland China with a workforce of 1.3 million people, of which at least 300,000 people assemble iPhone. While being China’s biggest electronic manufacturer, the company has been inundated with allegations of abuse and rights violations allegations — including a 2010 complaint linking a wave of suicides and suicide attempts to the “sweat shop” conditions in the factory.
At the time, late Apple CEO Steve Jobs denied the claims.
“We are on top of this… Foxconn is not a sweatshop,” he said. “It's a factory — but my gosh, they have restaurants and movie theaters... but it's a factory. But they've had some suicides and attempted suicides — and they have 400,000 people there. The rate is under what the U.S. rate is, but it's still troubling.”
In 2009, Sun Danyong, a 25-year-old communications department worker at Foxconn, committed suicide after security guards allegedly beat him up for losing a prototype iPhone.
In 2010, there were 18 reported suicide attempts and 14 confirmed deaths linked to the company, whereas the officials had to talk down 20 more workers. It was the same year iPhone 4 was released.
In 2011 Foxconn had to erect safety nets around its Shenzhen factory buildings to prevent suicidal jumps. However, at least 4 employees still died by throwing themselves from buildings.
In 2012, 150 workers gathered on a rooftop in Wuhan, in the central Hubei province, to protest horrible working conditions and threatened to jump. In June, a 23-year-old man threw himself from a building.
The following year, a 24-year-old man and a 23-year-old woman threw themselves from a Foxconn factory building.
In 2016, a 31-year old night shift worker at Foxconn jumped from a building. The next year, about seven or eight workers gathered on a rooftop and threatened to jump unless they were paid the wages they were due.
Long work hours, immense stress, harsh working conditions, unfair fines and low wages are among the most notable reasons behind such attempts.
Thumbnail/Banner: Reuters, Bobby Yip