Opinion

Outrage over Foxconn's 'no suicide' pledge is a year late

Foxconn has been making all the wrong sorts of headlines in recent months over the treatment of workers at its factories in China. Those factories have made products for a number of vendors, such as Apple, Dell, HP, Nintendo and Nokia. As many as 18 workers are reported to have killed themselves in the last year and a half as a result of the horrendous working conditions.

The Daily Mail reports that the company, which initially put up netting outside the workers' dormitories to try and prevent suicides, has now introduced a 'no suicide' pledge that employees have to sign. At first sight, this might appear to be the perfect definition of a non-enforceable commitment given that if someone wants to commit suicide, a pledge not to do so won't act as a deterrent.

But according to reports, the pledge also seeks to limit relatives of any suicides to seeking only the legal minimum in compensation. This would appear to chime with allegations that some officials within Foxconn have claimed workers committed suicide to get large compensation payments for their families.

Given the appalling conditions unearthed in an investigation of the factories by Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (Sacom), it's understandable that some people might be driven to suicide. Foxconn would surely be better advised to improve working conditions and suppliers should hold the company to account to ensure it does. And those of us in the western world who buy products manufactured in these factories should heap more pressure on the vendors we buy them from to force changes at the Foxconn factories.

But there's a sting in the tale: while Foxconn's 'no suicide' pledge is currently getting attention from the likes of the Daily Mail, the Sacom report from October 2010 states the pledge was actually introduced in late May last year. 

This was first published in May 2011

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