Foxconn Unveils Latest Suicide Prevention Gambit

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Foxconn, the Taiwanese assembler of iPhones and other gadgets for many major electronics companies, has signed an agreement to turn over management of dorms used to house workers at massive factory campuses in Shenzhen, China, to two Chinese firms, it said Sunday.

The aim of the agreement is to provide a better life outside of work for employees and stop a string of suicides that have captured the attention of media around the world.

The company will turn over management of 153 employee dormitories at two massive factory complexes that house many of its 450,000 workers in Shenzhen, Foxconn said in a statement.

The two new managers of the sites, Shenzhen CPM Property Management Co. and Kaiyuan Property Management, will work with the company, local government, labor unions and worker committees to create a more comfortable living environment that is more engaged with the community, it said.

"Providing employees with basic necessities including a safe and convenient place to live at the work-site might have been sufficient in the past, but this arrangement no longer satisfies the needs of the young migrant workers of today. They also want to have a life in the city in which they work," Foxconn said in a statement.

The plight of Chinese workers at Foxconn became the focus of media scrutiny because at least 13 people have attempted suicide at its factories there, mainly at the massive Shenzhen facility.

Foxconn is the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer, and it's size and the list of popular products it makes has also put it in the spotlight. It produces a range of products, from iPhones and iPods for Apple, to PlayStation 3s for Sony, Wiis for Nintendo, PCs for Hewlett-Packard and Dell, and mobile phones for Nokia.

The company has put several measures in place to prevent suicides so far, yet it's too early to tell if they will work. Foxconn has initiated pay raises for workers throughout China, invited Buddhist monks and psychiatrists to provide counseling, installed safety nets on buildings designed to catch people attempting to jump and offered factory tours to show conditions at factories and dormitories.

The company has also strongly defended its conduct. Early this month, Foxconn announced it would end a policy of compensating families for suicides over fears the measure may be encouraging new attempts.

Indeed, blaming Foxconn for the suicides is a tricky issue. Ten of the 13 suicide attempts at the company's China facilities this year have been successful, but the national suicide rate in China is 15.05 per 100,000 people, according to a Nov. 2008 study published in The Lancet medical journal. Foxconn employs over 540,000 workers in China, putting the 10 deaths so far this year at the company, while tragic, far below the national average.

The company first came under worldwide scrutiny over suicides last year, when a young engineer leaped from his dormitory window after a 4G iPhone prototype allegedly went missing. The suicides this year have not been attributed to any such troubles, but news reports from China have put the blame on tough working conditions and outdated management styles. Foxconn has denied the allegations.

Foxconn is the trade name of Hon Hai Precision Industry, which operates a number of companies under the umbrella of the Foxconn Technology Group.

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