Two Foxconn workers plummeted to their deaths last week from their dormitories at the Taiwan-based electronics manufacturing company's Zhengzhou plant in Henan Province, with some employees and netizens pointing the finger at the iPhone assembler's widely condemned "silent mode" of management.
The two victims, a 24-year-old male and a 23-year-old female, jumped off their dormitory buildings on April 24 and 27 respectively. The male worker was hired on April 21 and had just finished his training on April 23, while the female employee had been with the company for about six months.
Although the cases are still under investigation, the "silent mode" rule, which bans workers from talking about anything unrelated to work, conversations at a volume that could be heard by a third person and forbids a conversation involving three persons at the plant, is being squarely blamed.
The suicides may have prompted the abolishment of the "silent mode" in the Zhengzhou plant, according to an employee who spoke to the website. "The company's top management filed an urgent announcement on Tuesday to its lower level managers about abolishing the rule and allowing more rest time for the assembly line workers."
The Zhengzhou plant and Foxconn's head office on the Chinese mainland couldn't be reached by press time.
Several workers told the news portal 163.com that the rule is "extremely inhumane" and has "made the factory like a prison."
A former human resource employee, who spoke to the Global Times on condition of anonymity, said the "silent mode" is as basic as ordering employees to "arrive on time for work." "If anyone breaks the rule, they are fined or fired," he said.
"You can only hear the noise from the machines," the former employee said. "The rule makes the factory very depressing."
Foxconn, an electronic devices components producer owning big-name clients such as Apple and Samsung, has been criticized by its management style since 2010, when 14 of its Chinese employees committed suicide.
The former HR employee said complaints from workers were mainly about long overtime hours, repetitive work and rude supervisors.
He said Foxconn is not likely to overhaul its management techniques as a wealth of unskilled workers can flow in to fill up the vacancies left by those who have resigned or died.
A management expert surnamed Chen, who declined to disclose his full name for fear of retaliation, told the Global Times that the company's way of pursuing productivity is inhumane and needs to be changed.
"Although there are many young people wanting to work for Foxconn to make a living, the company should still keep maintaining basic humane conditions," he said, adding that the government should not stand by idly and let tragedies continue to pile up.