Apple, Dell & HP Investigate Foxconn Plant Suicides

Apple , Dell and Hewlett-Packard on Wednesday said they were investigating working conditions at Foxconn after a series of suicides at the contract electronics manufacturer’s main plant in southern China.

Nine workers at Foxconn’s Shenzhen plant, which employs and houses 300,000 people, have died after falling off buildings since the beginning of this year, the latest on Tuesday. Police have confirmed seven of the cases as suicide. Two other workers attempted to kill themselves by jumping off buildings but survived.

The suicides have forced the normally secretive Taiwanese company – which makes products such as smartphones and digital cameras under contract for many of the world’s biggest technology companies – to be more open about its working practices.

Apple, one of Foxconn’s main customers, said a team from the US group was independently evaluating the steps the Taiwanese group was taking “to address these tragic events” and would continue inspections of the facilities where its products are made.

Hewlett-Packard said it was “investigating the Foxconn practices that may be associated with these tragic events”. While Dell said it expected suppliers to stick to the same high standards it had in its own facilities and was enforcing these standards through a variety of tools.

The comments came as Terry Gou – founder and chairman of Foxconn’s parent Hon Hai – led the media through the group’s Shenzhen factory town in an attempt to allay concerns over the recent deaths.

It emerged on Tuesday that Foxconn had asked workers to sign a form in which they agreed to ask for no more than legal compensation from the company for eventual injuries not caused by the employer, including from suicide attempts.

A Foxconn manager said the company had paid the families of the dead workers some money to express its sympathy but management was worried that the practice was encouraging copycat suicides.

Mr. Gou on Wednesday said he was taking back the contract limiting the company’s responsibility as he felt the language was inappropriate.

Analysts said Foxconn was unlikely to lose business in the wake of the incidents.

Apple uses only one supplier for each product. “Other companies have never done this before and it would take a long time to ramp up production, so where would Apple go?” one analyst said.

Labor activists have threatened a boycott campaign against the iPhone because of the worker deaths. However, other Foxconn customers are seen to be under less public pressure because their brands are less iconic.

South Korea’s Samsung said on Wednesday that it was a minor buyer of Foxconn products but was closely watching the situation. LG Electronics said it only outsourced a small number of low-tier handsets for emerging markets to Foxconn.

- Additional reporting by Song Jung-a in Seoul and Robin Harding in Tokyo