SHENZHEN // The news of a second pay rise, this one of 70 per cent, will be welcome at Foxconn's enormous facility in Longhua, where about 300,000 of the company's 420,000 employees in Shenzhen work. But the reasons behind the apparent suicides of 10 young people this year at the plant remain a mystery. This plant, which is like a small city covering 3 square km, makes Apple's iPads and iPhones, and laptop computers for Dell and Hewlett-Packard.
There is a strong chance part of the mobile phone in your pocket or the computer on your desk came from Longhua. Plastic safety fences now line the roofs of the factory buildings at the plant, in an attempt to stop suicides. Five people fell to their deaths last month, and three other workers survived the fall, according to Foxconn's Taiwan-based parent company, Hon Hai Precision. The crisis has generated a large amount of publicity in China and prompted questions about the human cost of cheap production and rapid economic growth.
"I don't understand why people are doing this," said one worker from Guangxi province, aged 18. "If they are under great pressure they should quit, not kill themselves. Work pressure is always like this." All of the workers who had apparently committed suicide were aged between 18 and 24. Some workers complained about the harsh working environment, and that the only way to improve on their basic wage of about 1,000 yuan (Dh537) a month was to put in long overtime hours.
One worker said the working hours were too long. "Twelve hours a day and we're not allowed to talk, which is boring and not healthy," he complained. Others agree that the kind of work people have to do at Foxconn - repetitive piecework with no time for a break and no talking allowed - leaves the staff depressed, even suicidal. The workers' rights group China Labour Watch said: "Many of these deaths have been linked to the horrible conditions at Foxconn facilities, where employees are expected to work for 10 hours per day."
But others have said the deaths were the result of an "immature mentality" among those born between 1980 and 1999 - a generation thought by many Chinese to be spoilt. There is also the cluster theory - that suicide can be contagious among young people. But this does not explain why the series of suicides would start there and not at other big manufacturing plants. The conditions at Foxconn do not appear any worse than at many other factories in the Pearl River delta, the driver of China's economic boom.