Dealing With the Problems At Foxconn

The average computer user is oblivious to many things. Among the many things is the fact that most of the large manufacturers of computers don’t actually do the assembly themselves, but instead, specify a look, a quality, and a performance value, then leave it up to a company “off-shore” to do the rest.

It works well most of the time.

Foxconn is a company that has been around for years. The first time I knew anything about the name, it was as a supplier of Compaq products, back when Compaq was known to have the best laptops, and was a top tier company. (It is now a good company name, with the saddled chore of being the low-line H-P product.)

Foxconn now is the OEM for H-P, Dell, Apple and a few notable others, and during this year has been having some production problems. Human production problems – as in suicides or attempted suicides of many of its laborers.

[ComputerWorld]

Foxconn Technology Group suffered its 12th suicide attempt so far this year late Wednesday night, on the heels of a media tour to the company’s main factory in China and pledges by customers Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard to investigate the issue.

Foxconn, the trade name of Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry, has already put measures in place to prevent more suicides and is working on additional plans, such as installing nets on buildings designed to catch people attempting to jump, according to a company representative in Taipei, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

So far, 12 Foxconn employees in China have attempted suicide by leaping from tall buildings on the company’s sprawling campuses, and 10 have succeeded.

Late Wednesday night, a 23-year old man surnamed Han leaped to his death from a building at Foxconn’s Longhua factory complex in Shenzhen, China, according a statement from Shenzhen’s Public Security Bureau. Longhua is a small city, and includes production lines, dormitories and cafeterias for workers, and sports and recreation facilities.

The suicides have become a hot topic globally because Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer, makes goods for a number of high profile technology companies, including iPhones for Apple and PCs for Dell and HP.

But Foxconn argues that some of the reporting has been unfair. The company employs over 540,000 people in China and its suicide rate is far below the national average, which is 12 people per 100,000, according to China’s Ministry of Health.

Why does this sound like a problem of the Chinese government? Is there some undue pressure put on these people to perform? Being number one in volume in the world is a large responsibility to live up to – is it possible that the government is doing a bit more than instilling pride in these people? Some sort of chemical inducement to produce? (Did anyone besides me see the movie “Outland” with Sean Connery? Follow the link to see why I would bring up a movie.)

Still, the attention has put Foxconn executives in the spotlight and the company has responded with a number of initiatives to deal with the suicides. Earlier this year, the company called in Buddhist monks to provide spiritual counseling to people at its factories in China, as well as psychiatrists for counseling and to train workers who agreed to become peer counselors for fellow employees.

The company may also implement a 20% pay increase, an issue the Foxconn representative said was because business has been so good this year, not because of the suicide issue.

Foxconn also faces scrutiny because of the rising number of incidents at its factories globally, including a high-profile case in China last year in which a young engineer leaped to his death after a prototype fourth-generation iPhone went missing. More recently, Foxconn workers at a factory in Mexico set fire to an activities center after buses meant to take workers home after the night shift failed to show up.

Foxconn’s official spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment and did not return calls or e-mails.

Apple said it was “saddened and upset by the recent suicides at Foxconn.” A team from the company is “evaluating the steps they are taking to address these tragic events,” it added in a statement.

The latest suicide at Foxconn came after the chairman of the company, Terry Gou, led a large group of journalists through the Longhua factory campus to give them a view of the facility and answer questions about the recent spate of suicides.

Something is very wrong here. The fact that a Mexico factory was also showing this type of problem pushes the meter further toward an Outland type of problem, rather than one of national pride taken to the extreme. These people should be living better lives, and have little reason to end them, as they are in good jobs and (at least now) are getting paid well.

There should be a change in the way people work, after looking at a time between the hire and onset of problems. Changing workers in their jobs to make things different would certainly help productivity, and it would kill boredom that has, in some circumstances, been known to drive people past certain limits.

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sheeple Is the problem with Foxconn workers some sort of group-think brought on by indoctrination, chemical means, or something else? It would be sad to think that it was something as simple as a change in the break schedules that would have avoided these suicides.

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