Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fear And Loathing In Wuhan (Hundreds Threaten Suicide At Microsoft Supplier Plant)

NOTE:  I originally hesitated before posting this story, which was published on the website of CBS News/Seattle last Tuesday and also reported on the air, because I sometimes worry about being a “downer.”  But my family has a close and permanent affiliation with Wuhan, so I thought I should because it is so sad and shocking. (Despite the fact that Im sure we all have suffered lousy days at work, I can’t recall ever considering, let alone organizing, a mass suicide initiative as a solution.) The story also stands in stark contrast to the things our own political media seems to regard as vitally important these days (e.g., Mitt Romney’s income tax rate; Callista Gingrich’s hair.  Actually, Mrs. Gingrich’s hair does have a certain “man bites dog” aspect to it.)    

The Foxconn-Microsoft story follows on last year’s reports of mass suicides at Foxconn’s Apple manufacturing facilities. Although this month's events  received significant international “pick-up” (by Google's calculation, about 550 articles were published), it appears to have made no noticeable impact, on public or media consciousness, i.e., it's your classic "one-day story."  But imagine if this were Your life, All your Life was and ever would Be.  How would you feel?

Nets in place

By William McGuinness

SEATTLE, Wash. (CBS Seattle) – January 10, 2012 11:31 AM

Some 300 Chinese Foxconn employees who manufacture X-box 360 machines said they would throw themselves from their Wuhan, China, plant if demands for lost wages were not met.

    China Jasmine Revolution, an activist revolutionary organization with a name borrowed from the Tunisian revolt that set off the Middle East unrest, reported that employees made their demands for a wage increase for 100 employees on Jan. 2.

    Management at Foxconn — the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer and a crucial link in the supply chains of Apple, Dell, Nintendo and Song — responded with an ultimatum. Employees could quit with one month’s compensation awarded for each year with the plant or go back to working.

   Many employees quit, but Foxconn allegedly dishonored the agreement and awarded former employees nothing.

   Around 300 workers returned to the plant in an uproar, and staged their protest on the plant’s roof on Jan. 4.


Rooftop action


   Wuhan’s mayor intervened through hours of negotiations, walking them back from the roof’s edge until 9 p.m. when workers agreed to return to work, according to

    In an email to CBS Seattle, a Foxconn spokesperson confirmed the “workplace incident” occurred but said the workers protested because the company planned to move the workers from one business unit to another on the same campus as a result of shifts in the production line.

  “The welfare of our employees is our top priority and we are committed to ensuring that all employees are treated fairly and that their rights are fully protected. The operational changes that were the basis for this incident are being carried out in accordance with all relevant laws and regulations,” the spokesperson said.


   A Microsoft spokesperson wrote CBS Seattle a statement saying, “Microsoft takes working conditions in the factories that manufacture its products very seriously, and we are currently investigating this issue. We have a stringent Vendor Code of Conduct that spells out our expectations, and we monitor working conditions closely on an ongoing basis and address issues as they emerge. Microsoft is committed to the fair treatment and safety of workers employed by our vendors, and to ensuring conformance with Microsoft policy.” ­

   Foxconn came under fire in 2010 when workers successfully committed suicide in a plant that manufactured components for Apple. Then, Foxconn told media that it considered every worker’s life to be valuable while some plants required workers to sign contracts stating that they wouldn’t kill themselves.


   Wired magazine was granted access to the factories, which installed nets that would catch anyone attempting to jump.


Counseling center 

   Touring the Longhua plant in 2011, Terry Gou, the chairman of Foxconn parent Hon Hai Precision, said suicide rates among workers in his plants were smaller compared to the country’s and added a country’s suicide rate typically climbs when its GDP does, Forbes reported.


Rooftop action

Link: Ohio (Neil Young, Massey Hall, Toronto, 1971) (This story reminded me of Ohio and Neil’s lyric: "What if you knew her/And found her dead on the ground/How can you run when you know?")


  1. This is so tragic on so many levels. I was trying to find some papers online to see if there are cultural influences which might possibly contribute to choosing suicide as a an escape from hopelessness and despair. It's so important, I believe, to confront and acknowledge human suffering and desperation. It's the very least I can do. Thank you for posting this. Nell

  2. Yes, it really is, on a number of levels including the obvious one of political hypocrisy by the principal owners/management of Microsoft and Apple. From the earliest days when I worked in the video industry, I knew that Disney prohibited companies manufacturing their films on cassette from duplicating pornography in the same facility. That sort of concern and restriction sounds quaint in comparison to this nightmare. Microsoft and Apple could do something, but choose not to. I'm sure they include all sorts of high-minded clauses in their manufacturing agreements addressing worker conditions, but look the other way and don't enforce them. I expect they take much more direct interest in encouraging their workforce to contribute the to CEOs' favored political party/candidate PACs. (I've been there; this is how it works.) When our government fails to take any kind of meaningful actions regarding human rights, but instead sends senior political and diplomatic representatives simply to kowtow to local political power, this is the inevitable result. People simply choose to ignore these things and affect fake empathy at dinner parties, at PTA meetings, etc., instead. As I said, we have a deep personal affiliation and sense of identification here. Thank you for reading it. Those suicide nets are quite something, no? Curtis

  3. The suicide nets "solution", or whatever they think it is, is astonishing and ghastly. I'm constantly dismayed by people who cannot truly empathize with and take concrete action to relieve human suffering. It seems trite to say that it's mainly about greed and power (not sure which comes first), but I'm afraid it often is. I teach in our county's public school adult ed program. Most of my students happen to be immigrants. They come from all over the world. The great majority came to this country, often at great peril, leaving behind all that is familiar, to escape political upheaval, civil wars, widespread indiscriminate violence, and/or unspeakable poverty to find peace in America. And even though they struggle to learn English, and become citizens while going to school, often working at very low paying back-breaking jobs, they consider themselves the lucky ones. They are often my inspiration.

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