Laura Northrup at The Consumerist:
Is Foxconn, the huge electronics company that manufactures for global brands such as HP, Dell, and Apple (yes, they make the iPad and iPhone) a towering fortress of secrecy where employees cower in fear, ten people to a dorm room, or a normal manufacturing outfit that has had a weird cluster of employee suicides recently?
Ten Foxconn employees have committed suicide in the last year, and five in the last month alone. The first that attracted major media attention in recent months was a 25-year-old man who claimed that company security officers accused him of stealing an iPhone prototype and beat him.
The company has responded to the damage to its image with promises to improve management techniques and working conditions, a rumored 20% raise for factory workers, and asking employees to sign a pledge not to kill themselves.
Ed Sutherland at Cult of Mac:
Apple said it was “saddened and upset” by a recent spate of suicides at Foxconn, a China-based electronics manufacturer believed to be making Apple’s upcoming next-generation iPhone. The Cupertino, Calif. consumer electronics designer also announced it would launch an independent evaluation of the plant where 10 workers have committed suicide in the past year.
Earlier this month, a call for investigations was spurred by the death of another worker.
Tuesday, a 19-year-old male worker, who had been at Foxconn just 42 days jumped to his death from a company building. That death came just days after another worker reportedly committed suicide and just one day after Foxconn representatives defended the company against charges of maintaining a sweatshop atmosphere.
In the wake of the suicides, Foxconn – which also makes components for other electronic giants, such as HP and Nokia – introduced several antisuicide tactics, including putting safety nets to prevent workers from jumping from company buildings, inviting Budddhist monks to pray, and creating the “Foxconn Employee Care Center,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
Publicly, Foxconn has swung from physically attacking reporters to giving tours of the firm’s campus, complete with bakery, dormitories and Olympic-size swimming pools.
Ron Hogan at Popular Fidelity:
So what makes Foxconn workers want to put an end to their lives in such a dramatic manner? Apparently, if you believe the critics, it’s job unhappiness. The company is accused of using military-like discipline, maintaining shifts that are too long, and having the assembly line move too fast. Meanwhile, the company is installing nets and barriers on all its tall buildings (I’m not joking) to curtail any future leaps.
That’s probably cheaper than addressing the problem of why your workforce would prefer death to continued employment.
Seth Weintraub at 9 to 5 Mac:
Something we’ve suspected all along: It isn’t that Foxconn has an abnormally high suicide rate. The suicides are actually, per capita, less than the average in China.
The issue here is that Foxconn is mind-bendingly big. It has 500,000-800,000 employees overall and 300,000 alone in that plant in Shenzen that makes all of those iPads that we love so much.
We can’t possibly imagine how many people that is.
To put it in perspective, Foxconn is 1/5th the size of New Zealand. The country.
Four US states, Alaska, Wyoming, Vermont, and North Dakota are smaller than Foxconn. That means that there are more people going to work at Foxconn than every man, woman, child and elderly person in four US states.
If you’ve ever seen a Michigan-Ohio State game, Foxconn employees could fill one of those stadiums eight times over!
OK, you get the point. They have a lot of employees. And the suicide rate is high in China in general. So these suicides aren’t abnormal. In fact, they are below average. However, since they are high profile, they are followed closely.
John Biggs at Crunch Gear:
Hon Hai Precision Industry, the anchor group for Foxconn, is offering its workers a 20% increase in pay as part of a regular third-quarter cycle.
It’s important to note that this is a cyclical was planned months in advance the suicides are ancillary to the eleven suicides thus far.
“I don’t think this will impact Hon Hai’s profitability,” said Vincent Chen, an analyst at Yuanta Securities in Taipei. “Salaries for production workers are usually raised at around the third quarter, which is the peak season for most contract manufacturers as they gear up for the year-end holiday season.”
As someone who’s read a lot of Tyler Cowen in my day, this passage from China Daily’s report caught my eye:
Zhang said the company has never talked with them about the suicides and did not disclose the compensation amount, rumored at about 100,000 yuan ($14,600).
Prodded by reporters, Gou said on Wednesday he was taking the injury contract back because its language was not appropriate.
But he noted the company will reduce the amount of compensation, since “high amount of compensation may encourage suicides”.
Also interesting was this editorial arguing that the suicides among low-wage laborers “are but extreme examples of the problems caused by China’s traditional development pattern” and they highlight the need for China to develop more businesses where they control the intellectual property and keep the profits rather than simply administer the worst, and least profitable, elements of the production process.
UPDATE: Heather Horn at The Atlantic