Thu, Aug 19, 2010 - Page 11 News List

Foxconn holds rallies to aid morale after suicides

ROCKET SCIENCE? A labor activist said the rallies would do little to help, adding that the world’s biggest contract electronics maker needed to treat people like humans

AP , SHENZHEN, CHINA

Following a string of suicides at its Chinese factories, Foxconn Technology Group (富士康科技集團) raised workers’ wages and installed safety nets on buildings to catch would-be jumpers.

Now the often secretive manufacturer of the iPhone and other electronics is holding rallies for its workers to raise morale at the heavily regimented factories.

The outreach to workers shows how Foxconn has been shaken by the suicides and the bad press they have attracted to the normally publicity shy company. The latest suicide — the 12th this year — occurred on Aug. 4 when a 22-year-old woman jumped from her factory dormitory in Jiangsu Province.

The motivational rallies are titled “Treasure Your Life, Love Your Family, Care for Each Other to Build a Wonderful Future” and will be held at all facilities in China, according to Burson Marsteller, a public relations firm representing Foxconn.

“For a long period of time, I think we were kind of blinded by our success,” said Louis Woo (胡國輝), special assistant to Terry Gou (郭台銘), the founder of Foxconn’s parent company. “We were kind of caught by surprise.”

The rally yesterday took place at Foxconn’s mammoth industrial park in Shenzhen, which employs 300,000 and where most of the suicides took place.

However, Woo said there would be challenges in preventing such tragedies among such a large work force.

“No matter how hard we try, such things will continue to happen,” he said.

Foxconn plans to hire as many as 400,000 workers in China in the coming year and aims to boost its Chinese workforce to between 1.2 million and 1.3 million people after revenue jumped 50 percent in the first half, Woo said in an interview yesterday.

Foxconn, part of Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co (鴻海精密), has built itself into the world’s largest contract maker of electronics by delivering quality products on thin profit margins for its customers, which include Apple Inc, Sony Corp, Dell Inc, Nokia Corp and Hewlett-Packard Co.

One labor activist said Foxconn’s rally was unlikely to boost morale and did not replace the need for more thorough reforms.

“I don’t think today’s event is going to achieve anything except provide a bit of theater,” said Geoffrey Crothall, spokesman of the China Labor Bulletin, a labor rights group based in Hong Kong. “Basically, what Foxconn needs to do is treat its workers like decent human beings and pay them a decent wage. It’s not rocket science.”

“They’re still tackling this from a top-down approach, they are ­organizing the workers. They’re not allowing the workers to organize themselves,” Crothall said.

A similar gathering was held on Monday at Foxconn’s campus in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, which employs about 60,000 workers. A Foxconn official in Taipei said the company decided that day to remove safety nets from the Taiyuan plant, although there are no plans to do the same at its other factories.

In May, Gou promised to work harder to prevent more deaths. More counselors were being hired and employees were also being assigned to 50-person groups to watch one another for signs of emotional trouble.

Foxconn also announced two raises, more than doubling the basic worker pay to 2,000 yuan (US$293) a month at the Shenzhen compound.

However, workers have to pass a three-month review period before they qualify for the second raise.

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