The sound of silence

The sound of silence

Foxconn suicides cast light on the plight of factory workers - and the need for change

By Mandy Chan, Heep Yunn School

The song that goes 'Hello darkness, my old friend, I've come to talk with you again' is seemingly the right one to sing at Foxconn.

Eleven young workers have plunged to their deaths from Foxconn's buildings in Shenzhen since January 11. The tragedy has scarred many young employees.

Of its more than 800,000 workers on the mainland, 420,000 - almost all migrants aged under 30 - work in Shenzhen. They are young and insecure about their jobs and have to deal with living in a new city. Foxconn's complexes in Shenzhen house an impressive array of sports and social facilities for workers. But they are nothing more than an illusion.

These employees lead dull, laborious and exhausting lives striving to meet production quotas.

Negative emotions thrive during long hours of mind-numbing, repetitive work. Working overtime and low pay are the main factors that cause stress, especially for those with a low level of education and inadequate welfare arrangements because they do not have residency for the city.

Worse, some workers have said they are not allowed to speak to each other at work and are scolded if they do so.

Staff cannot send or receive e-mails from their dormitory or factory without prior approval from their superiors. And even a small mistake can result in humiliation.

Administrative worker Sun Danyong, 25, was beaten, humiliated and had his home searched after he was accused of stealing. This pressure may have led to his jump from the 12th floor.

The truth is, Foxconn workers have no avenue for complaints. The semi-military rigour and harsh discipline make life stressful. I believe these factors led to the suicides.

French sociologist Emile Durkheim concluded in Suicide (1897) that a breakdown or decrease in social integration may weaken the bonds that foster collectivity.

Social detachment and a lack of well-defined values and goals also make people more inclined to commit suicide. This goes some way to explaining the suicides at Foxconn.

The spate of suicides also makes us ponder the dilemma the mainland's industrial sector faces. Economic success is being built on low wages - and at the expense of human rights.

The suicides should be a wake-up call for the company to change its policies and working conditions.

Research has shown that a happy workforce is a more productive one.

It is of vital importance that companies take care of their employees' psychological well-being.

Stringent rules should be eased in favour of a friendly working environment in which staff can derive satisfaction from their work.

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