Two Foxconn (HKG:2038) employees plummeted to their deaths last week, according to Chinese news site 163.com, following a rash of worker suicides in 2010 that exposed inhumane working conditions at the world's largest contract manufacturer.
A 24-year-old male worker, recruited two days earlier to work in the company’s factory in Zhengzhou, Henan province, its second largest facility in mainland China, died upon jumping from his dorm on Tuesday. Three days later, a 23-year-old female worker jumped from the sixth floor of her dormitory building and was rushed to the emergency room, where she later died. Foxconn didn't officially get in touch with the family of the deceased male worker until 7 p.m. on Friday.
Foxconn, one of Apple's (Nasdaq:AAPL) largest contract manufacturers, produces the iPad and iPhone. In 2010, Foxconn's factories around China began to experience a spate of suicides, with as many as 17 employees reportedly jumping from buildings. After those episodes, Foxconn installed safety nets and rails on dormitory buildings to prevent such incidents. In the pictures taken of the Zhengzhou dorms, however, no such precautionary measures can be seen, according to 163.com.
Beginning in April, according to factory workers at the Zhengzhou facility, who asked not to be identified by name, “silent mode” was instated without an official announcement.
“What it means is that we cannot speak about anything but work once we are on the factory floor. Even when talking about work, we must keep our voices low so that no third person might overhear,” a Foxconn employee said. “Any conversations between more than two people must take place in the office of the floor manager. Rule violators are either reprimanded with lower monthly earnings or fired.”
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One Foxconn employee said, “The company is not treating us like human beings. Only machines can be kept silent.”
Some employees complained they're forced to work long hours in silence and reprimanded for taking long breaks. “After ‘silent mode’ is put into place, I work for more than 10 hours per day without speaking a word. It makes me very depressed,” another Foxconn employee said. “It’s like being in prison. In addition, we cannot leave work for more than 15 minutes; otherwise it’s counted as an absence.”
Some employees said they believe recent news of Apple returning a large shipment of defective iPhones to Foxconn is to blame for “silent mode.” On April 16, Terry Gou, Foxconn’s founder, came to the Zhengzhou factory to implement better quality control himself. According to 163.com, even though Gou has left Zhengzhou, “silent mode” is still being enforced at the factory.