Undercover reporter’s diary may hold key to Foxconn tragedies
14 May 2010
The diary of a mainland journalist who spent 28 days working undercover at Foxconn, a major supplier for Apple, might help solve the mystery over the string of suicide attempts inside the tightly controlled factory complex.
Foxconn, also trying to discover the reasons and seeking help from the public to prevent further tragedies, staged a rare media tour of the once mysterious “IT Forbidden City” in Shenzhen’s Longhua town yesterday.
Inside the almost 3 square kilometre complex – where 300,000 people work – there are modern dormitories, first-class facilities and orderly management, but most workers are unhappy because there are no entertainment facilities like cinemas or even city parks where young people can relax and go on dates, a diary published in the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly said. The Longhua complex is the biggest of Foxconn’s two complexes in Shenzhen.
The diary was written by Liu Zhiyi, a 22-year-old Southern Weekly intern, who spent 28 days working in Foxconn’s main factory after three Foxconn employees, aged 18 to 22, jumped to their deaths from dormitory buildings in just two days in April.
“I was the only undercover journalist among my colleagues to be recruited because I was the youngest one and only young people of my age would be hired by Foxconn,” Liu wrote. “I was deeply shocked during the 28 days of undercover work as I finally discovered how [young Foxconn employees] live.”
Liu said the production lines at Foxconn started at 4am, with thousands of uniformed workers, all dressed exactly alike, having to stand as they worked at least eight hours a day.
“With a basic salary of just 900 yuan (HK$1,000), they spare no effort to work overtime, which might boost their salary to more than 2,000 yuan,” he wrote. “But only reliable workers and those who have good relations with department heads are offered such opportunities.”
Liu said 10 workers shared one dormitory, but many did not know each others’ names.
Many young workers said they had not heard of, and did not care about, Zhu Chenming or Lu Xin , two 24-year-olds who jumped to their deaths this month.
Police said Zhu committed suicide because of a romantic disappointment, while Lu wrote in his diary that he felt his life had lost direction.
Lu, a graduate of Hunan’s Xiangtan University, jumped from the sixth floor of a VIP guesthouse in Foxconn’s Longhua complex on May 6, as his best friend, Zeng Hongling , looked on.
A talented musician, Lu took part in Henan Satellite Television’s Super Boy singing competition in 2008 and was named runner-up in Foxconn’s newcomers’ talent show when he joined the firm as a clerk in August last year.
“I am earning more money here, but I am so full of regret because I find I am wasting time and losing my dream … to be a music producer,” Lu wrote in his personal blog on October 26. “But what can I do? I even can’t afford a computer and other hardware for my music production.”
Zeng, a former classmate, said Lu’s family had debts of more than 100,000 yuan after paying their son’s university fees. Lu earned 1,800 yuan a month, but had to send 1,500 yuan home.
Foxconn said Zeng had alerted the company to his concerns about Lu’s mental health four days before his friend took his own life.
After six suicide attempts at Foxconn since January, four of them successful, the company arranged for Zeng to live with Lu in a room in the VIP guesthouse, provided psychological intervention and asked relatives from his Hunan hometown to visit him.
Lu’s parents were on their way, just four hours from Shenzhen, when he jumped.
The string of tragedies does not appear to have upset the young workers at Foxconn, or the thousands of candidates who line up in the complex’s reception zone for job interviews.
Foxconn says it employs 400,000 people in Shenzhen, 85 per cent of them born in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Liu Kaiming, an independent labour rights activist from the Shenzhen-based Institute for Contemporary Observation, said that young migrant workers born in the 1980s and 1990s were different from previous generations of migrant workers.
“They are also spoiled children and unwilling to do dirty work,” Liu said. “They are going to seek out their ideal lifestyles in the cities because they have more dreams and new ideas than their parents.” He said they were egocentric, not as responsible as their parents and more likely to feel disappointed after failures. “I found many young workers do not treat suicide as a serious issue because they do not respect their lives,” Liu said.