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Apple partner Foxconn says it's not a 'sweatshop' as suicides mount


A Chinese employee of Foxconn, the overseas manufacturer of numerous Apple products, jumped from a building to his death Tuesday, marking the 10th apparent suicide for the company in the last year.

According to the Associated Press, Li Hai, a 19-year-old worker who had been with the company for just 42 days, committed suicide on Tuesday. The death was the ninth at Foxconn's plant in the southern city of Shenzhen, a massive facility that houses more than 300,000 workers, while a tenth suicide occurred in January at a smaller plant in the norther Hebei providence. Two others at Shenzhen also attempted suicide, but survived.

Foxcon Chairman Terry Gou spoke with reporters on Monday, before the latest death, and said his company is "not running a sweatshop. We are confident we'll be able to stabilize the situation soon."

Last Friday, a 21-year-old worker at the factory jumped from a four-story building. That incident came only days after Southern Weekend issued an undercover report, revealing that employees sign "voluntary overtime affidavits" to take home more than the $132 equivalent local minimum wage that can be earned through a regular 36-hour workweek. Workers at the plant reportedly said, "without overtime, you can hardly make a living."

The most high-profile Foxconn-related suicide occurred in July of 2009, when a worker jumped from a 12-story building after one of 16 prototype iPhones he was responsible for went missing. Reports claimed that the man told friends before his death that security guards with Foxconn had aggressively questioned him regarding the missing prototype. Company officials alleged that the employee had a suspicious history.

Foxconn is believed to be the manufacturer of Apple's next-generation iPhone, expected to be unveiled at the start of the annual Worldwide Developers Conference, with a keynote from Chief Executive Steve Jobs set for June 7. The partnership with Foxconn has remained, but Apple now conducts an annual audit of its overseas partners. Last year's review found that more than half weren't paying their workers valid overtime rates.

Another Apple partner, Wintek, also recently came under fire in China when a number of employees were reportedly exposed to a poisonous chemical, n-hexane, which was used to clean the displays of some iPhones. Wintek said it treated workers for the exposure, but some have planned a lawsuit against the company. At least 62 workers have allegedly been hospitalized from exposure to n-hexane since August of 2009.

Despite its disclosures through the annual audits, first begun in 2006, Apple's partnerships with businesses in China have not gone without scrutiny. In February, U.S. Sen Dick Durbin, D-Ill., questioned the Mac maker, along with 29 other technology companies, for information on its human rights practices as they relate to Apple's presence in China.