Suicide at Apple supplier in China caused by mistreatment, says victim's family

A worker fell to his death after trying to request a leave of abscence from electronics manufacturer Foxlink, says his family

The family of a worker who committed suicide at an alleged Apple supplier in China is blaming his death on the harsh management at the factory and has tried demonstrating against the company, only to be detained by local police.

The worker, He Cheng, jumped to his death on Sept. 29 from the sixth floor of a company building of Foxlink, a Taiwanese manufacturer. The worker, who had been employed at the Foxlink factory in the Chinese city of Dongguan for only 20 days, committed suicide after management refused to give him three days of personal leave, according to his sister, He Mei.

Due to demand for the iPhone 5, the factory's management was pressing employees to work during China's National Day holiday, she said by phone on Wednesday. "The company said he couldn't request a leave of absence. If he wanted to leave, then he would have to leave his job, but he wouldn't be paid his wages," she said.

"He then threatened to jump off the roof and commit suicide," she added, noting that her brother was already feeling ill from working 14 to 15 hours each day at the factory. "The company didn't really care about what he had to say."

The Foxlink factory builds electronics accessories, including cable connectors for the iPhone, according to Jin Jie, an investigator with labor protection group Little Grass Workers' Home, who worked at the factory between July and August.

Apple, however, does not name Foxlink as one of its suppliers in its 2011 list, although the Taiwanese firm does have a tie with major Apple supplier Foxconn. The leaders of the two companies, Foxlink Chariman T.C. Gou and Foxconn CEO Terry Gou, are brothers.

Foxlink did not immediately respond for comment. An employee at Foxlink's company in Dongguan said she was unclear about the suicide, before abruptly hanging up the phone.

Following He's death, his sister and other family members demonstrated outside the Foxlink factory, demanding the company properly compensate them for his death. Local police, however, were quick to detain the family, whose protest attracted onlookers, according to video posted online.

Foxlink is offering to pay the family between 40,000 yuan (US$6,330) and 50,000 yuan to compensate the family, according to He Mei. "We feel very heartbroken about this situation," she said. "We were hoping they would compensate us for 1.2 million yuan, and then 800,000 yuan, but the company isn't raising the amount."

He Cheng had wanted to take the vacation to meet with his sister, who lives in Taiwan but returned to mainland China in order to celebrate the National Day holiday with family. Now their mother is currently in the hospital due to the shock of her son's death.

Jin Jie, the investigator with Little Grass Workers' Home, said management at the Foxlink factory routinely berated workers while he was employed at the facility. Workers at the factory generally make 2,000 yuan a month, and are largely made up of students aged 16 to 18, who come from vocational schools as part of internships.

"Management will get mad at the workers because the production output is too low," he said, noting that there were often too few workers on the assembly line to meet the production demand. "The management has no sympathy for the workers."

Apple's supply chain has been facing growing scrutiny since 2010, when a string of suicides occurred at Foxconn facilities in China. Both Apple and Foxconn have defended the working conditions at the facilities, with Foxconn moving to limit working hours and raise wages for employees. Worker incidents, however, continue to occur. Last month, a riot involving thousands broke out at a Foxconn factory in Taiyuan, China, which employees say was caused by harsh treatment by company security guards.

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Michael Kan

IDG News Service

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