While I had a completely different story lined up for today, it’s a rare occasion when a story about the latest tech news carries as much weight and meaning as this one. I wrote yesterday on the unprecedented rash of suicides at the Foxconn factory in China, one of the chief manufacturers of Apple’s premiere devices like the Mac, iPad, and iPod, and since then the company has officially addressed the issue.
In a press conference held yesterday Terry Gou, the chairman of the Foxconn Technology Group, stood in front of the media, bowed reverently, and apologized for the suicides. But was this act of contrition recognition of the working conditions of the Foxconn plant, an expression of subtle displeasure for the dishonor brought to the plant by these suicides, or simply a way of trying to sweep the whole situation under the carpet? Regardless, the tragedies continue at the factory, as it was revealed that hours after the conference yet another young man leapt to his unfortunate death.
But what you’ll find the most shocking news from this story is not only the outlandish, and not to mention insulting, solution suggested by the Foxconn chairman, but the fact that, statistically, these suicides are decidedly unremarkable.
As the Times Online reports, while it may be unusual to see over 10 suicides in the last several months at one single factory, such news would be a little less shocking if it happened in any number of the small cities surrounding Toronto (with a population of around 350,000), and even less unusual if those cities were made up entirely of young men between the ages of 18-27.
It is this exactly this unlikely scenario, however, that you find at the Foxconn plant in question, as it employs approximately 350,000 people, the majority of whom are young immigrant men. The suicide rate in China is about 13 per 100,000, a statistic that is understandably lower among the older demographic and significantly higher among young people.
Therefore, based on these numbers, we would reasonablyexpect to see 40-50 suicides this year at Foxconn alone, meaning that 11 in the past weeks are only ¼ of the year’s quota. While I clearly understand the angle of the Times Online story, the argument that we shouldn’t be shocked that factory suicides occur, especially when the factory sports the population of a small city, it all comes as cold comfort to the families of the victims, and indeed to anyone who mourns the victims of our rampant consumerism.
But back to the Foxconn press conference for a moment. What truly turns my stomach are the details of the statement offered by company chairman Terry Gou yesterday, where he mentioned in very general terms that he was sorry, and that he would see the implementation of measures designed to help stop these suicides.
While this might be a cause for tempered enthusiasm, as such measures may bring to mind employee counseling services, reviews of working conditions, improved worker’s rights, or any number of other avenues available to the North American worker, remember we’re talking about China here.
So what are the measures proposed by the Foxconn chairman to solve this suicide situation? Clearly the employees don’t need things like counseling, revised working hours and conditions; what they really need are nets around the tallest buildings to prevent falls? Good luck with that Foxconn. I’m sure it will solve the issues of depression and dissatisfaction that these workers are clearly succumbing too.