A startling 13 young workers attempted or committed suicide at the two Foxconn production facilities in southern China between January and May 2010. We can interpret their acts as protest against a global labor regime that is widely practiced in China. Their defiant deaths demand that society reflect upon the costs of a state-promoted development model that sacrifices dignity for corporate profit in the name of economic growth. Chinese migrant labor conditions as articulated by the state, are shaped by these intertwined forces: First, leading international brands have adopted unethical purchasing practices, resulting in substandard conditions in their global electronics supply chains. Second, management has used abusive and illegal methods to raise worker efficiency, generating widespread grievances and resistance at the workplace level. Third, local Chinese officials in collusion with enterprise management, systematically neglect workers’ rights, resulting in widespread misery and deepened social inequalities. The Foxconn human tragedy raises profound concerns about the working lives of the new generation of Chinese migrant workers. It also challenges the state-driven policy based on the use of internal rural migrant workers, whose labor and citizenship rights have been violated.

Key words: suicide, protest, new generation of migrant workers, global labor regime, migrant wages, electronics manufacturing service (EMS) industry, Foxconn, international brands, citizenship, China

Jenny Chan is a doctoral candidate at University of London Royal Holloway and a volunteer at Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM). Her manuscript in preparation is “Worker Participation in China: Labor Rights Training in Two Global Electronics Factories.”

Ngai Pun is deputy director of Peking University and Hong Kong Polytechnic University Social Service Research Center and associate professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Her book, Made in China: Women Factory Workers in a Global Workplace (Duke University Press and Hong Kong University Press, 2005) received the C. Wright Mills Award of 2006.

This article is published in The Asia-Pacific Journal, 37-2-10. The full version is available here: http://japanfocus.org/-Jenny-Chan/3408 or the-asia-pacific-journal-sep2010-suicide-as-protest-jc-pn1