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Common sense on Foxconn suicides

posted 31 May 2010, 13:42 by Admin uk   [ updated 3 Jun 2010, 10:29 ]

From John Sexton in Beijing from 

News that Shenzhen officials have told Foxconn workers to value their lives, and stop the rash of suicides that is jeopardizing bonuses, promotions and Steve Jobs' reputation, prompts the question just what value workers should place on their lives. 

Since reform and opening up, hasn't money been the measure of all things in China? And hasn't the Shenzhen government put a precise value on the lives of workers by setting the minimum wage at 1000 yuan a month? (A complex mathematical formula yields a figure high enough to prevent mass disorder but low enough to stop multinationals decamping to Vietnam.)

Now we clearly can't pay workers as much as senior officials, who have a responsibility to keep friends, colleagues, and investors entertained in a punishing round of restaurants, karaoke bars and massage parlors. But we need a figure that will act as a disincentive to self-termination. A government inquiry is clearly called for, and should include a study trip to other emerging economies such as South Africa (in time for the World Cup) and Brazil.

There are reports the company has asked its employees to sign a form renouncing their parents' rights to extraordinary compensation if they kill themselves. This is a wise move, since over-generous compensation previously offered was clearly an incentive to self-immolation. No doubt some of those who committed suicide comforted themselves with thoughts like "Now Mum and Dad will be able to afford the bedroom curtains they always wanted," as they hurtled towards oblivion.

Some journalists have been heard to remark that the workers' dormitories are far better than the pigsties they live in back in the villages. This reflects the deep concern of the media for the weaker social classes and belies the idea that they are only interested in compiling rich lists of green technology billionaires.

The local trade union, after an exhaustive and penetrating inquiry, decided the workers who committed suicide each had their own individual reasons for doing so. In line with the union's profound belief in the superiority of collective over individual action, perhaps they should be urging something more along the lines of a Masada-style event.

Meanwhile, some social scientists have pointed out that, by committing suicide, the workers are simply conforming with statistical laws that determine a definite proportion of the population kill themselves each year. It will no doubt comfort friends and family that their loved ones' deaths occurred strictly in line with the scientific concept of development.

As far as I know, nobody has so far asked the workers their opinion. But given their limited education, what enlightenment could we expect from them?