I’m finally back from China and now able to write on my blog! I have some exciting and interesting blog posts to share in the near future. Hold your horses.
In China I learned about the idea of “saving face.” This idea of preventing embarrassment and shame governs most actions. Our guidebooks even instructed us to not publicly embarrass a Chinese person, as it was a grave offense to do so.
Worker conditions in China aren’t so great either and the concept of fair trade is just emerging. Combined with the Chinese work ethic and their need to save face, many workers, like those at Taiwanese company Foxconn, commit suicide in response to the intense pressure to succeed, poor working conditions, and just plain life struggles.
This Wall Street Journal article elaborates on the current situation at Foxconn, “the world’s largest contract maker of electronic gadgets for brands such as Apple and Hewlett-Packard,” where eleven workers (900,000 total) have committed suicide by jumping to their deaths at work. 2 other workers attempted suicide but were unsuccessful. In response to this suicide cluster, the company has put up nets around the building to prevent jumpers.
The opinion piece from Wall Street Journal encourages readers to view the story holistically by examining the cultural factors that influenced the deaths. I agree with many of the points they listed:
“Foxconn’s factory employees tend to join the company at the age of 18 or 19, and stay for several years. So the atmosphere in its dormitories is akin to that of a large university, with the workers living away from home for the first time and encountering the usual new experiences…
China is in the midst of the largest and most rapid process of urbanization the world has ever seen. The creation of a “mass society” is often accompanied by adjustment difficulties, and the national suicide rate—14 per 100,000—is high by international standards. China’s rural youth often can’t rely on the support of parents, since that generation has little conception of the world their child is entering.
It’s true that Foxconn has done itself no favors with its past conduct. A young manager killed himself last July after an Apple iPhone prototype went missing, and his final messages to friends suggest he had been interrogated and beaten. In a separate incident the following month, the company confirmed its guards beat employees after the incident was caught on video. In 2006, after a Chinese newspaper reported that employees were being abused, a charge that was later shown to be false, Foxconn sued the two reporters personally and sought to have their assets frozen, provoking a public backlash against the company.”
As joked about on Colbert Report (6:42), Foxconn has allegedly required workers to sign a “no-suicide pledge,” according to this NY Daily News article. “The signed pledge also allows the company to send those displaying “abnormal emotional outbreaks” to psychiatric institutions, according to Taiwan’s CTI cable TV channel,” a 21-year-old employee told the South China Morning Post.
According to China Daily, Foxconn also raised its minimum wage this week from 900 yuan to 1,200 yuan per month (6.7 yuan to 1 US dollar) in all its mainland plants starting in June.
Bloomberg had a really fascinating article which included workers’ comments and a summary of the positive and negative conditions at Foxconn. Read more here.