(Slate) The iPad Suicides
Should you blame yourself for all those deaths at the Chinese electronics factory?
Last week, the Chinese media got hold of a contract that the electronics manufacturing company Foxconn recently asked its workers to sign. Call it a non-suicide pact—”I will not harm myself or others,” they were asked to declare. The contract directed employees who are troubled by work and life to reach out to relatives or to call Foxconn’s “worker care center.” The letter also stipulated that from here on out, Foxconn would not be liable to pay damages to the families of suicide victims. The clause sparked outrage in the Chinese media because, according to news reports, Foxconn currently pays out about $16,000 to families of workers who kill themselves. That amounts to about 10 years of the minimum salary at a Foxconn plant—10 years of what is by all accounts a physically and psychologically brutal job of putting together products for Apple, Dell, HP, Microsoft, Nintendo, and other electronics companies.
In other words, according to the grim math of the global gadget-making industry, Foxconn’s workers are worth more dead than alive. Those post-death payments seem like one plausible explanation for the suicides of at least 10 young Foxconn workers this year. (Several more have survived suicide attempts.) The number of suicides might not be statistically abnormal—the company does, after all, employ 800,000 workers—but the deaths do follow a clear pattern. Namely, Foxconn exployees are killing themselves in the most gruesomely public way: Nearly all of them have died by jumping from tall buildings on Foxconn’s campus.