May 21, 2010 / 9:13 AM / 10 years ago

Foxconn employee dies in 10th fall this year

BEIJING (Reuters) - An employee of tech firm Foxconn died on Friday after falling from a building in the southern manufacturing hub of Shenzhen, the tenth such fall since the start of this year, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Foxconn, whose clients include Apple and Sony Ericsson, has faced criticism from labor groups over the welfare of its employees after the spate of apparent suicides. The firm could not immediately be reached for comment despite repeated phone calls and emails.

The man who died on Friday, just before 5 a.m. local time, was 21. It was the eighth death of a Foxconn employee this year, with two workers surviving their falls, Xinhua said.

Local police said they were taking the case seriously and had sent a team to look into the death. Shenzhen’s police chief was already leading an investigation into previous falls, the official China News Service said.

The high reported toll may be due as much to public interest in Foxconn, and a larger flow of information from workers with mobile phones and Internet access, as to a rise in suicide rates at the firm, said a Shenzhen-based expert in labor issues.

“In some isolated companies, you will never know what’s happening there,” said Liu Kaiming, the head of the Institute of Contemporary Observation, a Shenzhen think-tank.

But analysts warned that reports of deaths at the firm, already a target of criticism by labor groups over its working conditions, could make its overseas clients uncomfortable.

“Nobody wants to buy a product that is associated with a facility at which people kill themselves,” said Edward Yu, head of Beijing-based technology research firm Analysys International.

“This is a public relations problem...If they can’t handle it appropriately, that will test some of the long-term relationships with the brands, like Apple and Sony,” he added.

Campaign group China Labor Watch this week called for an overhaul of conditions for Foxconn’s production line workers, after an investigation prompted by a previous death.

It recorded working days up to 12 hours and production line employees sometimes going for weeks without a day off.

“We are extremely tired, with tremendous pressure,” it quoted workers in a computer assembly department as saying. Many attributed recent deaths to the stress they are all under, the report said.

WALLED CITIES

Foxconn, a unit of Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry, runs massive manufacturing complexes where workers churn out products for the world’s leading computer and phone companies in round-the-clock shifts.

Of 800,000 employees in China, 420,000 are based in Shenzhen, Xinhua said last week. Most are under 30.

Shenzhen analyst Liu said life in the company’s factories can be lonely and it had a high turnover, with nearly half the staff quitting every year.

“To work in a big company, (with a campus) as large as a medium-sized city, they need the feeling of a family to handle the severe working pressure,” Liu added. “The company cannot make these young people be just money-making machines.”

Additional reporting by Melanie Lee in SHANGHAI and Sally Huang in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie

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