What Drove an Apple Plant Worker to Attempt Suicide

Tian Yu shares her story
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 6, 2013 7:20 AM CDT
What Drove an Apple Plant Worker to Attempt Suicide
In this May 26, 2010 file photo, staff members work on the production line at the Foxconn complex Shenzhen; Tian Yu worked at this location.   (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

It was a morbid and recurring headline in 2010: Another Foxconn Worker Dead in Suicide. Ultimately, 18 workers attempted to take their lives that year, and all but four succeeded. One of those survivors, Tian Yu, has spoken extensively to Jenny Chan, who last month published Yu's story in the journal New Technology, Work and Employment. It's now getting wide pick-up, and understandably so: It's remarkable in its depth. As Chan learned, Yu was 17 when she jumped from the 4th floor of a Foxconn dorm in southern China on March 17, after just 37 days on the job. "Her job at the Longhua factory had been her first, and probably will be her last," Chan writes of Yu, who is now paralyzed from the waist down.

The Guardian notes that Yu traveled close to 700 miles from her village in order to find work in Shenzhen that would help sustain her family. She was told of inspiring entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates at orientation, and urged by way of the employee handbook to "Hurry toward your finest dreams." Then she went to work on one of the assembly lines that exclusively serves Apple, where she examined glass screens looking for scratches. She worked from 7:40am to 7:40pm, skipping dinner to do so. Bathroom breaks were restricted. She had one day off every two weeks. She stared at posters that read "Achieve goals or the sun will no longer rise." She had to sit in a "standardized way" and work in "enforced silence." She made no friends. Her repetitive task began to wear on her: "I found it hard to see the end of the screen-inspection work." Due to a mix-up with her paperwork, she wasn't paid the $220 she was owed for her first month of work. "I was so desperate that my mind went blank," she says. Then she jumped. For more on what followed—the coma, the treatment, the one-time "humanitarian payment" of $27,000 from Foxconn—read Chan's lengthy piece. (Or click for a very different but equally unusual suicide-related interview.)

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