Manufacturing firm Foxconn — which assembles the iPhone, among many other tech products — has recently seen a spate of worker suicides at its factories in China, raising questions about the working conditions in the city-size facilities. On Wednesday, Apple issued its first public statement on the matter.
“We are saddened and upset by the recent suicides at Foxconn,” Apple’s statement read. “Apple is deeply committed to ensuring that conditions throughout our supply chain are safe and workers are treated with respect and dignity. We are in direct contact with Foxconn senior management and we believe they are taking this matter very seriously.” Apple also says that it is independently investigating the steps Foxconn is taking to respond to the deaths.
Nine workers have died in apparent suicides this year, with two others surviving attempts. While the number is not necessarily out of the ordinary compared to China’s suicide rate, the concentrated nature of the incidents has prompted concern not only at Foxconn’s parent company, the Taiwanese Hon Hai Precision Industry, but also among those companies whose goods are made there. In addition to Apple, Foxconn is also a manufacturer for Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Nokia, and other tech firms.
Hon Hai’s chairman, Terry Gou, has taken the unprecedented move of opening the doors of some of the company’s facilities and allowing the press to tour them.
“I’m very concerned about this. I can’t sleep every night,” Gou told Reuters. “From a scientific point of view, I’m not confident we can stop every case. But, as a responsible employer, we have to take up the responsibility of preventing as many as we can.”
While the company stresses that most of its more than 800,000 employees are satisfied with their jobs, workers rights advocates argue that the employees are forced to work long hours on a too-fast assembly line, during which they are not allowed to converse with their fellow employees. Still, the company has seen no shortage of applicants, and workers who talked to reporters said the conditions at the factory were better than elsewhere.
Foxconn has recently made moves to help the mental health of its employees, adding 70 psychiatrists and training 100 voluntary workers for counselling. The company is also constructing nets outside worker dormitories to prevent employees from jumping.
This isn’t the first time Foxconn has found itself in the spotlight for its treatment of employees, either: in 2006, British paper The Mail on Sunday found that Foxconn subjected its workers to unfair conditions, spurring an investigation by Apple. And in 2009, Foxconn employee Sun Danyong committed suicide after he reportedly lost a prototype iPhone with which he had been entrusted; it was also suggested that he had been mistreated by Foxconn security personnel.
Incidents such as these have led to Apple’s habit of performing audits of its entire supply chain. In the most recent report, issued in February (PDF link), Apple acknowledged that it had found violations of its code of conduct, which it was moving to remedy with the help of its manufacturers.