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iPhone factory dials monks to save lives

world Updated: May 21, 2010 00:59 IST
Reshma Patil

The workers making your iPhone in officially atheist China are being blessed. Buddhist monks have been hired to reportedly ‘dispel misfortune’ in one of the world’s biggest and most secretive electronics factory in Shenzhen where young Chinese workers make gadgets for brands like Apple.

The realities of migrant life inside China’s export factories are in the spotlight again as a series of alleged suicides stuns this southern Chinese boomtown near Hong Kong.

Last week, a 21-year-old worker of Foxconn Technology reportedly slashed himself with a knife and leapt from his seventh-floor dormitory. It was the seventh suspected suicide — all in the 18-24 age group — reported at the factory this year. Two others survived suicide attempts.

Employees are being urged to inform bosses of suspected suicidal tendencies on the assembly line, in return for rewards. Hotlines and 100 counsellors have helped prevent at least 20 ‘possible suicides,’ said media reports. The China Daily said monks were invited this month after the seventh suicide, to release the ‘nervous emotions’ of employees.

Foxconn did not respond to a comment request from the Hindustan Times. Experts say the factory’s suicide rate is not unusual compared to its count of about three to four lakh employees in Shenzhen. But it’s a ‘disturbing’ trend, Geoffrey Crothall, spokesman of the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, told HT.

“The conditions in which employees live and work at Foxconn and many factories in the Pearl River Delta are not helping,’’ said Crothall. “When they experience difficulties, they often have no one to turn to. They see co-workers attempt suicide and think this is a way out.”

Crothall described over email that the workers who are often straight out of school or college work 10-11 hours daily, six days a week. Social interaction on the factory floor is ‘actively discouraged’. They cram with strangers into dormitories where violence is ‘not uncommon.’ China’s national television recently broadcast interviews with ex-workers of Foxconn, an arm of a Taiwanese electronics major. A worker called it a place where ‘one cannot make money without working overtime’ and described working 100 extra shifts per month.