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The massive Foxconn factory in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen is known for assembling famous electronic goods like Apple's iPhone and iPad. But in recent months it has gained a darker image, as a place where distraught workers regularly throw themselves to their deaths. The latest fatality came on Tuesday morning, when a 19-year-old employee died in a fall in the company's Shenzhen compound, according to the state-run Xinhua news service. He was the ninth worker this year to have died in a fall from factory buildings on Foxconn's properties in Shenzhen; two have survived suicide attempts, according to state-media reports. Another teenager, who the company revealed this month died after jumping from a company building in Hebei province in January, brings the total employee death toll from falls to 10 this year.
The string of deaths has drawn attention to the labor practices of a highly successful Fortune 500 company that has 420,000 workers on its payroll in Shenzhen alone. Two dozen activists protested outside the company's Hong Kong offices on Tuesday, calling on Foxconn to improve working conditions and raise wages.
The dead have all been migrant workers, and for many Foxconn was their first job. The company pays most of its assembly-line workers in Shenzhen the city's minimum wage of $130 a month, and many work significant overtime hours in order to maximize their incomes. "The work [at Foxconn] is long, monotonous and boring," says Liu Kaiming, a labor researcher and executive director of the Shenzhen-based Institute of Contemporary Observation. "The speed is very fast and you can't slow down, for 10 hours a day at the minimum. You can see how someone could easily become numb and turn into a machine."