The Link Between Employment Conditions and Suicide - Academic Perspectives on the Report


“Work-related suicide has become a major public health concern across the globalized economy and has mobilized intervention by political leaders, businesses, academic specialists and health experts in different national contexts. This report by the Economics Rights Institute and Electronics Watch provides a rich and invaluable study of the causal connections between suicide and working conditions in the Chinese electronics sector and is a compelling platform for discussion and intervention by policy makers and businesses both in China and across the international stage.

Drawing on both quantitative and qualitative methodologies, including interviews with 252 employees, the report brings together detailed empirical evidence of the connections between suicide and conditions of work, highlighting in particular the impact of work speed and intensity and poor safety standards in the workplace. Management strategies that pressurise or bully employees is also identified as a significant factor.

The report highlights the critical importance of monitoring and recording workplace suicides as an urgent public health concern. Concerted efforts by government and businesses to improve the methods of documenting workplace suicides in other national contexts has led to significant improvements in working conditions, better social understanding of the links between work and suicide and in some instances, new legislation to protect the mental health of employees.

This report is a thorough, meticulous and detailed study that makes an important contribution to academic study, but is also an urgent rallying call for policy makers and businesses to intervene in order to improve working conditions and take responsibility for the mental health of employees.”

--Sarah Waters, School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of Leeds*


“This study is a gem! Objective, rigorous, thorough and rich, this report presents the most systematic and convincing evidence I have ever seen on the tragic phenomenon of worker suicide. Grounded in firm-level survey and in-depth interviews with employees from a wide range of electronics suppliers, supplemented by careful mining of news reports and internet information, the study gives voice to those who can no longer speak for themselves. It shows the causal chain of events that often begin with ordinary factory disciplinary codes and wage policies. The pressure of productivity and profitability quickly give rise to everyday shop-floor conflicts, compounded by the speeding up of the conveyor belts, workers’ subjective perception of injustice, and the use of violence inflicted by private security, all leading to high level of worker anxiety and depression. Without an internal firm-based OSH mechanism to identify and mitigate these pervasive and daily pressures, workers are exposed to health risks that only become visible when they commit suicide as a way out of a desperate situation. The combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, the mapping of suicide incidents on a variety of factory features, the seamless weaving of economic data and personal narratives make this a most sobering and engaging read for all stakeholders concerned with labor protection, economic justice and human rights.”

--Ching Kwan Lee, Sociology, University of California*, Los Angeles


"The study of the Economic Rights Institute and Electronics Watch reveals the devastating situation in the Chinese electronics industry. The detailed and comprehensive study sheds light on the phenomenon of workers suicides and provides clear and strong evidence for the link between suicides and working conditions. Far from simplifying a very complex and multifaceted phenomenon, the authors suggest a highly reflective and careful handling of data. The methodology based on Internet data as a starting point and complemented by a quantitative survey applied in a selected number of electronics firms as well as qualitative interviews with workers is solid and convincing. The detailed outcome of the study calls for taking responsibility and encourages new efforts in order to prevent the needless loss of human lives due to harmful and inhumane working environments. This opens a new chance for negotiations and dialogue between employers, workers organizations, civil society and governments."

--Martina Sproll, Department of Business and Economics, Hochschule für Wirtschaft und Recht Berlin/Berlin School of Economics and Law*


*Institutions listed for identification purposes only

See full report, call to action and press release.