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The Daily Need

iPad worker suicides, revisited

Protesters outside an Apple Inc. reseller in Hong Kong last year. Foxconn's annual general meeting was also targeted by protesters accusing both companies of poor corporate ethics after a recent spate of suicides at Foxconn factories. Photo: AP/Vincent Yu

One year after a rash of highly publicized worker suicides at its Shenzhen factory complex, Foxconn, the world’s largest manufacturer of electronic gadgets, is in the news again.

In the past year and a half, 14 Foxconn workers have committed suicide. Stressful work conditions – with overtime averages once as high as 120 hours per month per worker – and strict management, coupled with high consumer demands for products like iPads, may be to blame. The company’s clients include Apple, Hewlett Packard, Dell and Motorola, and its  workers are responsible for the production of iPods, iPhones and iPads.

A recent study reveals that Foxconn’s overtime averages still exceed the legal Chinese maximum of 36 hours per month. Wage increases have only benefited workers with greater seniority, and the company is reported to be planning to relocate factories to provinces with lower pay levels.

Foxconn’s sprawling campuses in southern China are home to more than 400,000 employees, as well as swimming pools, tennis courts and towering dormitories. After last year’s suicides, Foxconn reduced overtime to 80 hours per month, installed safety nets beneath the rooftops where workers were jumping and raised the average monthly starting wage to $172 US from $132. The pay raise was reported to be financed in part by Apple, which increased the labor costs of an iPad to 3 percent from 2.3 percent (Apple’s profit for each iPad sold is around $200).

In the past, Foxconn has compensated the family members of suicide victims with amounts of up to $44,000 US, but later amended company policy to require that employees sign a pledge promising that, in the event that they commit suicide, their families will not sue.

Read an article from a reporter who worked undercover at the plant in 2010.

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