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Dying to Work at Foxconn

by Craig Good

February 1, 2012

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Donate 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 havecommitted suicidesince early 2010. And this past May, alarge explosionat 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.

by Craig Good

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