The rash of suicides at Foxconn are not due to harsh working conditions but the plight of China’s migrant workforce, says an open letter signed by a dozen Chinese sociologists.
The letter blames the string of Foxconn suicides on the social problems faced by China’s vast class of migrant workers.
Originating from poor rural areas, Chinese migrant workers are often rootless and isolated, cut off from friends and family. Instead of finding good jobs in urban factories, they are often too poorly paid to settle in their new cities, and have limited access to education and healthcare. With no prospects at home, they are stuck. The sociologists call it the “path of no return.”
We have made them live a migrancy life that is rootless and helpless, where families are separated, parents have no one to support them, and children are not taken care of. In short, this is a life without dignity.
The sociologists note that at the end of 2008, the population of Shenzhen exceeded 12 million, but only 2.28 million were registered as permanent residents. The giant Foxconn plant, which employs upwards of 600,000 workers, is located in Shenzhen.
The sociologists call on Foxconn and the Chinese central government to boost wages, and improve access to housing, eduction and healthcare. They also say demand workers be given a “voice,” which presumably means unions.
We call on every enterprise, to make a conscientious effort to increase migrant workers‘ pay and rights, and allow migrant workers to become true “citizens of the enterprise”.
Here’s the full text of the open letter:
Appeal by Sociologists:
Address to the Problems of New Generations of Chinese Migrant Workers,
End to Foxconn Tragedy Now
18th May 2010
(original text in Chinese is posted online at http://tech.sina.com.cn/it/2010-05-19/13214206671.shtml; see also the blog at http://t.sina.com.cn/1743939945?retcode=0)
Since January of this year at the Foxconn Group, nine workers have already attempted suicide by jumping from buildings, resulting in the tragic death of seven, with two injured. Why would these young people, roughly all in their twenties, choose to leave this world in life’s most beautiful time? This loss of life is so distressing, and makes us think deeply about the new problems of the second generation of migrant workers and the status of China as the “world’s factory.”
Over the last thirty years, China has depended on huge numbers of cheap laborers, mainly from rural areas, who have forged an export-oriented style “world factory”, and fueled the rapid growth of China’s economy. But at the same time, the basic survival rights of the work force have been overlooked; we have denied migrant workers’ dignity, paid them at wage levels below the average for third world countries, made it impossible for them to settle and live in the cities, while leaving them to drift back and forth between cities and the countryside. We have made them live a migrancy life that is rootless and helpless, where families are separated, parents have no one to support them, and children are not taken care of. In short, this is a life without dignity. From the tragedies at Foxconn, we can hear the loud cries for life from the second generation of migrant workers, warning society to reconsider this development model that has sacrificed people’s fundamental dignity.
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