HONG KONG/TAIPEI (Reuters) - A tenth employee of iPhone-maker Foxconn jumped to his death late on Wednesday, just hours after the company’s chairman promised to make life better for employees at the sprawling production site in southern China.
The company did not give details of the death but China’s official Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday that an initial police investigation indicated the 23-year-old man from northwest China had committed suicide by jumping from a seventh floor dormitory balcony.
The spate of deaths has thrown a spotlight on the labour practices of Foxconn, a unit of Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry, whose clients include Apple, Hewlett Packard and Sony Ericsson.
Apple and other clients have said they are investigating working conditions at Foxconn, which has some 420,000 employees at its base in Shenzhen and has come under fire for its secretive corporate culture.
Workers live inside the factory complex and churn out products for the world’s leading computer and phone companies in round-the-clock shifts.
Taipei-based Hon Hai spokesman Arthur Huang confirmed the tenth death but denied reports on three Taiwan TV stations that another person, a young woman, had also jumped late on Wednesday, surviving with serious injuries.
Just hours before the latest reports, the usually media shy Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou had opened the company’s sprawling facilities in Shenzhen to reporters and vowed to take sweeping action to prevent more deaths.
Gou made another trip back to the plant on Thursday following the Wednesday media tour. Pictures on Taiwan TV stations showed him boarding his private jet.
All 10 of the deaths have been of young migrant workers, among the millions who leave the poor hinterlands of China for the boom towns of the south and east coastal areas in search of work and high wages.
Two others have been seriously injured after also jumping from buildings, in incidents that labour groups say expose the harsh working conditions at Foxconn.
Li Ping, secretary general of the Shenzhen municipal government, told a news conference on Wednesday that the pressure of being away from home with little care from society was part of a complex set of factors underpinning the suicides.
He said the government was joining with the police and Foxconn to consider a range of ideas such as building up sports and cultural facilities to improve the living environment, Xinhua reported.
The firm was training about 100 mental health counsellors and installing 1.5 million square metres of nets to stop workers from jumping, Xinhua said.
The safety nets will cover nearly all dormitories and factories.
“Although this seems like a dumb measure, at least it could save a life should anyone else fall,” Gou was quoted as saying.
In a report to clients, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch said that while the incidents would affect Hon Hai’s image, they are unlikely to cause a significant impact on earnings, a view echoed by UBS, which noted that Hon Hai remains a “top-notch supplier.”
Foxconn shares rose 4.2 percent in a Hong Kong market up 1.2 percent, having fallen to a seven month low earlier this week. Hon Hai shares fell 0.4 percent in Taiwan, with the broader market up 1.1 percent.
In another sign of unrest in southern China, Japanese car maker Honda said on Thursday a labour dispute had shut down one of its parts plants, causing the closure of four car making plants.
Reporting by Simon Rabinovitch in BEIJING, James Pomfret in HONG KONG and Jonathan Standing, Roger Tung and Baker Li in TAIPEI; Editing by Chris Lewis and Lincoln Feast