Foxconn acknowledges deaths of two workers from Apple-focused Zhengzhou plant [u]

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On Monday Apple's primary manufacturing partner, Foxconn, disclosed the deaths of two workers from its Apple-oriented Zhengzhou factory, though there don't appear to be any immediate links to conditions at the plant. [Updated]

The deaths took place last week, Reuters reported. A woman is said to have died in a train accident on her way to work, while a man's body was found outside a building in Zhengzhou. Foxconn said it's cooperating with authorities investigating the incidents.

While Foxconn's workforce can balloon to as much as 1.3 million during peak production times — now likely being one of them, given the anticipated launch of Apple's"iPhone 7" — such deaths are still rare and can raise concerns given Foxconn's history of worker suicides.

Between 2010 and 2011 a rash of suicides drew attention to poor labor conditions at the manufacturer, particularly low wages, extreme hours, and shoddy safety. Under scrutiny from activists and media, and accompanying pressure from the likes of Apple, conditions have improved somewhat.

Last year the death of another Foxconn Zhengzhou worker was described as a suicide by a labor rights group.

Update: The Wall Street Journal reports that the man's death was a suicide, in which the iPhone assembly worker climbed to the top floor of a production building after his shift and jumped. The woman was hit by a train after climbing a fence and trying to cross the tracks, since pedestrian underpasses were flooded by rain, the paper said.

Apple has issued a formal statement. "We constantly monitor working conditions to ensure that they meet our strict standards, and we will investigate the incidents in Zhengzhou," it said.

"Facilities in Zhengzhou and throughout our supply chain offer employee assistance programs, designed in conjunction with Apple and available to every worker, to provide access to social services and counselors whenever needed."

The Journal suggested that pay has actually worsened in recent years. Without overtime assembly workers are said to earn about 1,400 yuan ($211) per month after deductions for things like food and housing. This can potentially double with overtime in effect, but the amount is still said to be less than the 5,000 yuan or more people could earn a few years ago.

Foxconn has also reportedly instituted a policy in which only people who can recruit another worker are eligible for overtime, leaving everyone else on subsistence-level income. More desperate workers have allegedly paid strangers to take temporary jobs in order to qualify.


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