First, the story itself, as reported by WantChinaTimes:
According to the anti-Chinese government website China Jasmine Revolution, about 300 employees at Foxconn Technology Park in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in central China, threatened to kill themselves by jumping from the top of a building in the park.
On Jan. 2, about 300 employees at the plant belonging to Taiwan-based Foxconn — the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer — asked their employer for a raise. They were told in response to either quit their positions and receive compensation or keep their jobs and receive no additional payment. Most of the employees took the first option but the company terminated the agreement and none of them were given the money they were promised.
As the situation developed, the mayor of Wuhan came to dissuade the former employees from committing suicide. At 9:00pm on Jan. 3, the group chose life.
14 workers at Foxconn plants in other parts of China committed suicide in 2010, with employees frequently complaining of discrimination and long working hours.
Next, some thoughts from Malcolm Moore:
First, a lot of journalists have followed Want China Times’ lead and written that 300 workers were protesting, and that they worked on a Microsoft XBox 360 production line.
We checked both of those things yesterday and couldn’t confirm either. Foxconn said 150 workers had striked. Which matches up with the photographs taken on the roof of the factory – there clearly aren’t 300 people there.
As for the Microsoft line – the worker we managed to get hold of said the new production line that had triggered the protest was making computer cases for Acer. Not Microsoft. But Microsoft were jumpy enough about it all to issue a boilerplate statement saying they were investigating the matter.
So, what conclusions can we draw? Mainly that migrant workers are ever more aware of their rights, and are less and less afraid to hold their employers to ransom if they do not get what they see as reasonable treatment.
The second conclusion is that even though this was not a story about Apple, Foxconn and Apple have become closely linked in the minds of readers. Several commenters at the bottom of my report on the protest called for Apple to stop using Foxconn (I’ve explained previously why this is a very unlikely outcome).
In addition, what happened at Foxconn in 2010, with scores of young people throwing themselves off roofs, mostly in the same campus, was clearly a cluster. And while to some extent it was caused by the feelings of alienation and depression suffered by the workers, it was also caused by Foxconn’s own handling of the incident. As I have written before, Foxconn incentivised its workers to commit suicide by offering huge compensation payments to their families. Those offers were quickly rescinded when it became clear they had provoked workers to weigh up the value of their lives.