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Nokia, Sony raise concern over Foxconn

BEIJING -- Technology giants Nokia and Sony on Friday joined a chorus of concern over labor conditions at a vast assembly plant in China after yet another attempted suicide by a worker who slashed his wrists.

The companies said they were looking into conditions at the factory in the southern economic zone of Shenzhen run by Taiwanese supplier Foxconn, following similar pledges by Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Dell.

In an apparent effort to confront a growing tide of bad publicity over the suicides, Foxconn announced Friday a 20 percent rise in salaries at its China plants.

The vow came as Chinese media reported another employee survived a suicide bid on Thursday at the vast plant, where 10 have died recently in apparent suicides. An 11th worker died at a Foxconn factory in northern China.

“We are concerned and take this very seriously,” said a statement by mobile phone giant Nokia, one of Foxconn's clients.

“Given the concerning reports regarding Foxconn, we are in continuous contact with Foxconn to ensure any issues are identified and addressed as soon as possible.”

The suicides at Foxconn, which assembles Apple's best-selling iPhone among other brand-name gadgets, have highlighted concerns over working conditions for the millions of factory laborers who power China's export-reliant economy.

Japanese electronics titan Sony said it requires suppliers to adhere to a code of conduct and would investigate conditions at Foxconn, which is owned by Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry.

“In response to recent reports, Sony has begun taking steps to re-evaluate the working environment at Foxconn,” a company statement said.

Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard made similar statements this week.

Activists and employees have said the roughly 300,000 workers at Foxconn's Shenzhen plant face long hours, low pay and heavy pressure.

Dozens of demonstrators protested Friday outside Hon Hai's Taipei headquarters, urging it to improve treatment of its workers while unfurling white banners and laying flowers to mourn the dead workers.

“We urge Hon Hai to respect life and to stop its inhuman and militarized treatment of workers aimed at maximizing profits,” said organizer Lin Tzu-wen.

“The workers have to stand all day and they are not allowed to talk. They are treated almost like machines in a sweatshop environment,” he said.

A Foxconn official confirmed media reports that the company was set to raise the salary of its assembly line staff but stressed that the plan was not conceived in response to the suicides.

“We have been discussing the pay raise since the beginning of this year as business was picking up and set a 20 percent guideline for the raise,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

The raise applies to all of its plants in China and could be implemented as early as next month, he said.

China's official Xinhua news agency said another Foxconn employee Thursday had tried to kill himself at the Shenzhen plant by slashing his wrists.

He survived after being rushed to hospital for treatment, the report said. Foxconn officials in Shenzhen could not be reached for comment on the case.

The failed attempt came after Xinhua said a man jumped to his death at the complex late Wednesday. The agency said police had confirmed it was a suicide.

Hon Hai chairman Terry Gou publicly apologized for the deaths during a tour of the plant this week. But he defended the company's labor practices, saying some of the suicides may have been linked to personal problems.

Gou was quoted Thursday by Taiwan media saying Foxconn plans to relocate some facilities and about a fifth of the Shenzhen workforce to western regions of China where many of its workers come from to allow them to be near home.

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