The Foxconn Suicides

What do you do when employees at your company are committing suicide at such a high rate that you’re sitting on pins and needles waiting for the next one to happen? You open it up to the media, of course. That’s exactly what Foxconn Technologies did last week, but it has yet to quiet the news regarding 13 employees who have either died by their own hand, or tried to kill themselves at the Taiwan company.

Going into damage control, the world’s largest contract maker who supplies products for the likes of Apple, Dell, Hewlitt-Packard, Sony, and Nokia, opened their facilities to international media. Touring the facility, they were allowed to see the motherboard facility, hot live center, swimming pool, palm tree-lined streets, fast food chains, banks, and bookstores that make up for what looks like a small city rather than a manufacturing plant. Heck, there’s even on-site dormitories where workers live. The question remains then: why are employees killing themselves?

It may seem like a case for Mulder and Scully from The X-Files to tackle, but the truth is that there have been 10 people who have died this year alone from jumping off of buildings at Foxconn, with another three failing at suicide attempts. What gives? There have been people saying that Foxconn’s rigid management style, too-fast assembly line, and overwork is the cause of all of this, but of course they deny these allegations. When speaking of a company that is situated in Taiwan though, it’s hard not to make these assumptions. They have a history of being in the news for making their employees work 16-hour days for little pay, which causes not only work stress, but personal stress as well. Even with all the amenities added on, it’s not like they have time to enjoy them, because they are always exhausted from working too much.

Foxconn Chairman, Terry Gou, has even said that he finds it difficult to sleep at night, for fear of a phone call waking him up saying that another employee has died. You know something’s wrong when even the head of the company is worried about employees committing suicide. Still, he says that the company is doing all it can to prevent further deaths from happening. They are installing safety nets on buildings, and hiring more counselors to attend to employee concerns, as well as dividing the 300,000 member workforce into 50 member groups, which will hopefully make them watch out for one another and spot early signs of emotional distress.

Still, you can’t help but think that something fishy is going on over at Foxconn, especially when last year one of the suicide deaths occurred after an employee was grilled about a missing iPhone prototype. While I don’t have all the answers, I think opening up the facility to the media did nothing more than add fuel to the already burning fire, regardless of how many cushy bunk beds and greasy cheeseburgers there may be on the facility grounds.