Terry Gou, founder and chairman of Hon Hai, the Taiwanese parent company of Foxconn, rushed to Shenzhen on Tuesday in an attempt to deal with the crisis from a continuing string of suicides among workers.
Mr Gou invited the media to a press conference on Wednesday at Foxconn’s Longhua plant and said he would help them better understand the situation.
The move came after another employee at the plant died after falling off a building on Tuesday morning. Shenzhen police confirmed the death but said they were still investigating whether it was suicide. Nine people have died this year in the series of incidents among workers, while there have been two failed suicide attempts.
Foxconn is the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, making devices for leading global electronics brands.
Labour activists in Hong Kong have threatened to start a campaign for a boycott of Apple’s iPhone, one of the many electronic devices made by the 300,000 workers at the Shenzhen plant. Workers are paid the minimum wage and regularly work heavy overtime.
However, psychiatrists say the suicides cannot be explained as a simple consequence of labour conditions at Foxconn. “At least, here’s a company that’s doing something about it,” said Michael Phillips, director of the Suicide Research and Prevention Center at Shanghai Mental Health Center and a professor at Emory University School of Medicine.
He pointed to Foxconn’s moves to set up new counselling and early warning systems. He also said the suicides appeared to have a strong imitation factor.
But labour activists called for more decisive action from the company. “The wages of these workers should be raised to decent levels so they won’t feel they need to rely on overtime,” said Geoffrey Crothall of China Labour Bulletin. “That would give them time to socialise, relax and work through whatever issues they have.”
Betty Chan of Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour said her group was in touch with activists in Europe over an international boycott campaign against the iPhone from next month.
Female workers on one production line at the plant told the Financial Times during a factory visit last week that they earned Rmb1,800 to Rmb1,900 ($263-$278) a month, working 12 hours a day with a two-hour lunch break.
Foxconn’s total workforce in China numbers 800,000.
Mr Gou made his first public response to the crisis on Sunday. “We are definitely not a sweatshop,” he said. “At this stage we can only quietly do our job and not make any comments about this issue. So we will do our best” to improve the situation, Mr Gou said.
“A manufacturing team of 800,000 people is not easy to manage,” he added.