Apple investigating Foxconn suicides

May 26, 2010, 11:15 AM UTC

A flurry of public relations activity in China after the ninth fatal fall this year

A Foxconn factory. Credit: REUTERS/James Pomfret

[UPDATE: A tenth Hon Hai employee — a 23-year-old man — jumped to his death from the seventh floor of a workers dormitory only hours after Hon Hai executives took journalists on an unprecedented tour of one of their plants and promised to outfit the dorms with safety nets.]

Terry Gou, the Taiwanese tycoon who founded Hon Hai industries (trademark: Foxconn), led the press on a rare factory tour of its facilities in Shenzhen China and announced that his company — the world’s largest electronics manufacturer by revenue — is planning to construct safety nets around all its dormitories to prevent workers from falling to their deaths.

Meanwhile, two of Hon Hai’s biggest clients — Apple (AAPL) and Dell (DELL) — announced that they were conducting their own investigations of worker conditions at the company’s Chinese factories.

“We are saddened and upset by the recent suicides at Foxconn,” the Apple statement said. “Apple is deeply committed to ensuring that conditions throughout our supply chain are safe and workers are treated with respect and dignity.”

“We are in direct contact with Foxconn senior management and we believe they are taking this matter very seriously.”

The announcements followed the fatal fall earlier this week of a Hon Hai worker — the ninth apparent suicide this year.

The deaths have drawn intense media scrutiny despite the fact that nine suicides among a population of some 450,000 workers is not that surprising, statistically speaking. According to the World Health Organization’s most recent statistics, China’s suicide rate is 13.9 per 100,000 people.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]