Dying to Work at Foxconn

Thousands of people recently lined up hoping for a job at Foxconn in China, the company that assembles high-tech gadgets such as the iPhone and iPad for Apple and other companies. The article mentions some of the hand-wringing about working conditions there.

At least 14 workers in Foxconn plants in the Chinese cities of Shenzen and Chengdu have committed suicide since early 2010. And this past May, a large explosion at a Foxconn plant in Chengdu where iPads were built killed three people and wounded more than a dozen.

Setting aside the industrial accident for now, I really wonder about that “string of suicides”. The data I’ve found indicate that Foxconn has about 1.2 million employees. The overall suicide rate in China is tragically high, about 22.23 per 100,000 according to the CDC. (Official Chinese government figures are, not surprisingly, much lower.) If, as reported, 14 workers have committed suicide over a period of 16 months, then the suicide rate at Foxconn is substantially lower than in the rest of China.

This reminds me of “going postal“, where the sheer number of workplace violence incidents at the United States Post Office masked the fact that, on average, it has a lower than average rate of such incidents. Foxconn is a very big company. I would expect a large raw number of suicides, worker violence, and industrial accidents even if it is relatively safer than most of its peers.

If you have access to more solid numbers please link to them in the comments. It’s admittedly difficult to get trustworthy data out of China.

Meanwhile, the skeptical point is to be wary of drawing conclusions from raw numbers in sound bites. Also, remember the “News Effect”: Things that get reported on the news are almost always extremely rare. If they were common they wouldn’t get reported. So, when you see something bad happen to somebody on the news, you know right away that it’s something not likely to happen to you.

About Craig Good

Film maven. Foodie. Skeptic. Voice actor. Writer.
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4 Responses to Dying to Work at Foxconn

  1. Guy McCardle says:

    I recently read a comic strip about the late Steve Jobs. In a nod to his Buddhist beliefs it featured him being re-incarnated as an assembly-line worker in China putting together products for Apple. I believe it quotes him as saying, “oh, crap!”.

  2. Norm Benson says:

    Nice post. Context is all. I’m not sure the numbers in the link below are better. It is a good quick infographic.


  3. Alessandro Martin says:

    The infographic (assuming it’s reliable) paints quite a picture.
    What I dislike about the current smartphone business model is that they get away with making huge profits on both the hardware and the software.
    What I mean is that (for example) game consoles manufacturers Sony and Microsoft, when they introduce a new console they take a hit actually losing money for each console sold for an initial period of 2 to 3 years; slowly they close the gap between manufacturing cost and retail price by shrinking the inner chips and taking advantage of the fact that tech gets progressively cheaper, and yet they slash prices and include more features with each subsequent hardware revision (WiFi on the 360 slim, bigger hard drives, etc.), so much of the money to be made is in accessories and games sales.
    Apple sells it iOS devices ad outrageously high prices AND they make a ton of money off the App Store, and Android manufacturers are following suit so we are stuck with overpriced hardware, even if the apps are fairly cheap. 600 to 700 US$ for an unlocked iPhone4S/Samsung Galaxy SII is outrageous!

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