Foxconn and the suicides

You have probably heard about the recent suicide of a tenth worker at Foxconn, the manufacturer of iPhones and some other Apple products.

When I heard this story (not long after the report of the ninth suicide) my immediate thought was: OK, how significant is this? How many people actually work there?

Now it turns out that was exactly the right thought. They have about 800,000 employees. Ten suicides therefore, sad as it is, is 1.25 suicides per 100,000 of population. This would place Foxconn among the lowest-ranked countries in the world for suicides - lower than any developed nation and less than a twentieth of the rate in Japan or Lithuania. Typical rates in most countries are about 10, meaning a Foxconn employee is eight times less likely to commit suicide than in Europe or America.

Most strikingly, non-Foxconn employees in China are eleven times more likely to kill themselves than Foxconn employees!

Looking into it further, there are some details which slightly modify this argument: the suicides are, according to some reports, all at the same plant in in Longhua - however, even if correct, there are still 300,000 people working at this plant. Also, the deaths are all apparently in a six month period and not a year. The argument is still true, though the relevant rate is now 6 per 100,000 rather than 1.25. Still well below average.

Even newspapers which have looked into the statistics - for example this Guardian article - haven't bothered to draw the obvious conclusion: this is not an unusual pattern, nor is there any reason to interpret it as a condemnation of Foxconn's working conditions.

Other stuff: the shocked tone of "workers are forced to labour for 60 hours a week to earn an income" shows a plain misunderstanding of labour patterns. Chinese industrial workers regularly work 60 hours a week, just as British or American workers did in the 1920s - and as many even choose to do today. These numbers are falling fast, and are much less onerous than suffered by the people working on subsistence farms who have not chosen to move to a factory town.

[A similar point is made by Patrick Mattimore, via Tom Foremski at zdnet]


PunditusMaximus said…
60 hours a week at an industrial job is too much; you stop being a person at those numbers.

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