SHENZHEN, China - Foxconn Technology Group showed off a motherboard factory, swimming pool, and a hotline center for workers with emotional problems Wednesday as the giant company - maker of iPods and other popular gadgets - tried to repair an image damaged by a spate of employee suicides in China.
Hours later, another male employee fell to his death from a building at the company's Shenzhen complex, though it was not immediately clear if it, too, was a suicide.
The company's chairman, Terry Gou, earlier in the day had repeatedly apologized for the 10 confirmed suicides this year and told reporters the firm would do everything possible to prevent more deaths. Nets were put on buildings to stop people from jumping, and about 100 mental-health counselors were being trained.
"We need some time," he said. "But we are confident. We are extremely determined."
Gou said he had been having trouble sleeping at night because of the suicides - the latest confirmed case was Tuesday when a 19-year-old man jumped from a building after working at the plant for about a month. He also said he dreaded the sound of his own phone ringing after work hours because he was afraid it would be news of another death.
The tour with six busloads of journalists went through the palm-tree-lined streets of the sprawling factory complex in the southern city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong. The walled-in industrial park employs 300,000 workers and looks more like a small city with fast-food restaurants, bakeries, banks, and towering dormitories for workers.
Foxconn was trying to address allegations from labor groups that the workers were killing themselves because of hellish conditions in the factories, which churn out iPhones, Dell computers, Nokia mobile phones, and other electronics. Critics say that Foxconn manages its plants with a strict military approach and that workers must work too much overtime on assembly lines that move too fast.
Gou did not take questions about such issues at a news conference, but he insisted that the vast majority of workers were happy with their jobs and that too much attention was being given to the troubled few. "We want to make every worker have a happy life and work environment here," Gou said.
Finding fresh statistics for suicides in China is difficult. The World Health Organization said that in 1999, China's suicide rate for men was 13 per 100,000 people, while the rate for women was 14.8.
Noting the figures, Hynek Pikhart, senior lecturer in epidemiology and public health at University College London, said that "the [Foxconn] rates are not probably too high or unexpectedly high." But he added: "I guess one of the reasons why these got the news is that maybe these are workplace suicides."
The company showed off a plant with workers assembling motherboards for servers. As Gou's entourage walked through the factory, a large group of Foxconn staffers in white polo shirts fanned out and observed workers who talked to reporters.
"We're treated pretty well here," said one worker, who would give only her surname, Chen. "I think the suicides were caused by individual problems."
Asked if working conditions might have driven their colleagues to suicide, another worker, who provided only his surname, Zhang, just shrugged and said: "I don't know."
The tour included a large swimming pool near a huge cafeteria, where workers were lunching on rice, cabbage, tofu, and beef with red peppers. One worker who was standing near the pool on her lunch break said she had never taken a dip because she worked too late.
At a counseling center in a commercial strip with eateries and a bookstore, a long row of young women in red shirts staffed hotlines.
Professor Stephen Palmer, director of the London Centre for Stress Management, said it was worrisome that all the suicides had been committed the same way - by jumping off buildings. "Once a method becomes popular, it becomes more acceptable to others," he said.
He also said it was problematic that many staffers were migrant workers: "If you're working very long hours and are away from your family, that is definitely an issue."