Yesteday, the day the iPhone4 was released, saw a global day of remembrance for the 11 workers who have died at the Foxconn factory in the Shenzhen province of China in the past 12 months

Foxconn workers assemble products for companies including Apple, Dell, Nokia and Nintendo. The company employs more than 800,000 people throughout China.

Of the 11 deaths, 10 have been through suicide and one was due to exhaustion after the victim in question, Yan Li (27), collapsed after working continuously for 34 hours.

The response from Foxconn CEO Terry Gou to the suicides was to install safety nets to catch those who attempt to throw themselves from the roof of factory buildings, set up counselling services and, controversially, to ask workers to sign a pledge to refrain from committing suicide.

The pledge also gave permission for managers to incarcerate in mental institutions those workers who display signs of an “abnormal mental state”.

There was no talk of reducing working hours or improving factory conditions for the beleaguered Foxconn workers until global outrage, local protests and wide media coverage appears to have forced the issue.

Foxconn have raised the minimum wage at the plant by nearly 70% from 1,200 yuan to 2,000 yuan per month- just over the cost of a 32gb iPhone in the US.

Workers’ rights advocacy group SACOM-who called the day of remembrance- responded to the pay rise pointing out that the increase is not even as high as the Shenzhen minimum wage which is soon to be implemented in line with other pay increases across China.

In a statement on the organisation’s website they claim “There have been increases in the minimum wage in many provinces in China this year[…]Apparently Foxconn’s wage increase proposal is just getting a few weeks’ start on an expenditure it will be required to make in the near future anyway.”

Apple boss, Steve Jobs defended conditions in the factory plant, saying it is not a sweatshop and the suicide rates are low compared to those in the US and were probably due to young rural workers leaving home for the first time to work in the city.

He added “I actually think that apple does one of the best jobs of any companies in our industry -maybe in any industry- of understanding the working conditions in our supply chain.”

SACOM have described Jobs’ comments as “no more than complicity with Foxconn’s degradation of workers and treatment of them as if they were machines.”

The activists’ organisation has released a report on the connection between suicide rates and the expansion of China’s economy over the past 30 years (available in PDF) and have set up a petition calling for “thorough reform” of working conditions in China.

Vital calls for reform such as these come at a time when the ruling classes are demanding that the working class pay for the crisis created by the neo-liberal architects of global finance.

The struggle for improving conditions in China has to be connected up to the wider global struggle against a looming recession which will transcend all borders if it is not met with an international movement of solidarity and resistance.

Dan Poulton

Dan is a writer, broadcaster and campaigner.  His most recent documentary was The New Scramble For Africa and his documentaries have appeared regularly on the Islam Channel. He is an organiser for Counterfire and a regular contributor to Counterfire site.