Advocacy Group: Foxconn Employee Died Of Exhaustion After 34 Hour Shift

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A new report by the Hong Kong based advocacy group SACOM (Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior) says that an eleventh employee has died at Foxconn.

Unlike the last ten deaths, though, the latest reported death wasn’t a suicide. Instead, 27 year old Foxconn employee Yan Li died on May 27th after a continuous 34 hour working shift. Allegedly, Yan —who worked night shifts at Foxconn from 200 — literally worked himself to death.

Life at Foxconn’s facilities are admittedly hard. A recent Bloomsberg report paints a grim picture of life in Foxconn’s assembly lines, describing an unhealthy working environment in which employees — many isolated from their friends and family for the first time — breathe dangerous fumes and stand for 12 hours a day, six days a week, with conversation on the lines prohibited and bathroom breaks extremely limited.

“Life is meaningless,” said Foxconn employee Ah Wei. “Everyday, I repeat the same thing I did yesterday. We get yelled at all the time. It’s very tough around here.”

Foxconn seems to realize it has a problem on its hands, although it seems certain they view it as more of a public relations issue than a humanitarian one. Either way, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer announced plans to raise employee pay by 30% in an effort to stem the tide of suicides..

According to SACOM, though, that’s not good enough. They point out the new salary will amount to just 1200 Yuan… which is still less than the anticipated new standard for minimum wage being fronted in the People’s Congress of Shenzhen (where Foxconn has its largest plant): 1400 Yuan.

SACOM concludes their report by accusing Apple of complicity in the abysmal working conditions at Foxconn, pointing out Steve Jobs’ recent dismissal of the statistical (but not humanitarian) import of the Foxconn suicides as proof that Apple is not taking the well-being of its subcontracted workers seriously.

“Even though Foxconn holds primary responsibility for exploiting the workers, global brands like Apple should be accountable too,” SACOM writes. “In the global supply chain, international brands always have the lion’s share of the profit distribution. To secure contracts, Foxconn minimizes its cost to remain competitive, and transfers the pressure of the increasingly low profit margin to the frontline workers. In this “race to the bottom” game, workers inevitably suffer as a result. To reform the vicious cycle, Apple and other electronic brands should increase the unit price it pays in order to provide a truly decent and above-minimum wage for workers.”

Full Statement:

Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior
Telephone: (852) 2392 5464 Fax: (852) 2392 5463
Email: sacom@sacom.hk Website: www.sacom.hk
Mailing Address: P.O.Box No. 79583, Mongkok Post Office, HONG KONG

[Statement]
4 June 2010, Hong Kong

Another Foxconn Worker Dies – This Time from Exhaustion

Yan Li, 27, is the latest victim of Foxconn, the manufacturer of iPads and other high-tech items that has experienced a recent rash of worker suicides. He collapsed and died from exhaustion on 27 May after having worked continuously for 34 hours. His wife said Yan had been on the night shift for a month and in that time had worked overtime every night. Yan, an engineer, had worked for Foxconn since April 2007.[1] The tragedy marks the 11th death at the corporation since January this year. To pay respect to these young lives, Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) designates 8 June 2010 as the Global Day of Remembrance for Foxconn’s Victims.

Despite pressure from civil society and the media, Foxconn continues to deny that the suicides are related to management methods. In a press conference on 26 May, Foxconn CEO Terry Gou said that the suicides were due to love affairs or other personal problems of the victims. He even asserted that some workers committed suicide because of the company’s willingness to compensate their families generously. It is evident that Foxconn shows no commitment to review the structural problem in the factory. Its attempt to evade responsibility is an insult to the dead and to the public.

Foxconn’s promised wage increase is not even as high as the anticipated rise in the Shenzhen minimum wage

The corporation has announced a plan for a wage increase from CNY 900 to CNY 1200. However, this promise is less generous – and more cynical – than it appears. There have been increases in the minimum wage in many provinces in China this year. For example, the new minimum wage in Shanghai is CNY 1120, and the level in Guangzhou is CYN 1100. It is expected that the Shenzhen government will release the new minimum wage in the next few weeks. Although the amount is unknown, some members of the People’s Congress of Shenzhen suggested the new standard should be around CNY 1400. Apparently Foxconn’s wage increase proposal is just getting a few weeks’ start on an expenditure it will be required to make in the near future anyway.

Complicity from Apple

On 2 June, Apple CEO Steve Jobs defended Foxconn and stated that Apple’s supplier is not a sweatshop. He further commented that the suicide rate at Foxconn was not high. Instead of looking into the problems at Foxconn, Apple is resisting initiating a corrective plan. Jobs’ statement is no more than complicity with Foxconn’s degradation of workers and treatment of them as if they were machines. Even though Foxconn holds primary responsibility for exploiting the workers, global brands like Apple should be accountable too. In the global supply chain, international brands always have the lion’s share of the profit distribution. To secure contracts, Foxconn minimizes its cost to remain competitive, and transfers the pressure of the increasingly low profit margin to the frontline workers. In this “race to the bottom” game, workers inevitably suffer as a result. To reform the vicious cycle, Apple and other electronic brands should increase the unit price it pays in order to provide a truly decent and above-minimum wage for workers.

SACOM demands that Foxconn, Apple and other clients of Foxconn:

1. review the management methods at Foxconn to ease the pressure on workers;

2. facilitate the formation of a trade union through a democratic election;

3. reform the purchasing model to end the “race to the bottom” game; and

4. provide a decent wage so that workers like Yan Li need not endanger themselves by working so much overtime.

To commemorate the victims, SACOM and other Hong Kong partners will stage a protest on 8 June at Studio A, an Apple retailer shop owned by Gou Tai-chiang, the younger brother of Terry Gou. We also encourage other NGOs, trade unions and individuals to support us on the Global Day of Remembrance by:

1. endorsing SACOM’s petitions and letters to Apple and Foxconn executives at http://www.gopetition.com/online/36639.html and http://www.labourstart.org/cgi-bin/solidarityforever/show_campaign.cgi?c=714;

2. issuing a statement to support the workers at Foxconn; and / or

3. staging a protest at Apple’s store and delivering white flowers in memory of the victims.