Foxconn’s Suicide Waiver

By the time you read this, it’s possible another worker at Foxconn will have committed suicide. It seems to be happening so fast now that the newspapers can barely keep up with it, let alone the CEOs whose most significant policy adjustment thus far has been to make employees sign a piece of paper saying they won’t kill themselves. While you’re pondering just how stupid that is, here’s a little sample:

3. In the event of non-accidental injuries (including suicide, self mutilation, etc.), I agree that the company has acted properly in accordance with relevant laws and regulations, and will not sue the company, bring excessive demands, take drastic actions that would damage the company’s reputation or cause trouble that would hurt normal operations.

I’ll leave a longer post for Stan Abrams, who is in Boston at the moment, as he knows far more about business that I do. But to me, this seems pretty pointless. “In the event of non accidental injuries” like suicide and self-mutilation, “I will not…take drastic actions that would damage the company’s reputation”? If someone is willing to kill or maim themselves because they’re upset about their jobs (or whatever) I submit that:

  1. They are probably not concerned about having signed a piece of paper promising not to commit suicide.
  2. They are already pretty committed to taking “drastic actions”
  3. They do not give a fuck about “the company’s reputation”

I understand that asses need to be covered, legally speaking, but does this letter seem pointless and callous to anyone else? “Hey, guys, would you mind not killing yourselves? Thanks. It’s really embarrassing for us.” Yeah, that’s the problem.

Some people have suggested that Foxconn people are killing themselves at a rate that’s similar to the overall suicide rate in China, but as Evan Osnos suggests, that’s probably not a very fair comparison given that the demographics at Foxconn are quite different than the demographics in China as a whole. According to these graphs from the World Health Organization, a large percentage of the people who kill themselves in Chinese society are over 55 years old, whereas Foxconn presumably doesn’t have a lot of 65-year-old laborers.

In any event, as I know nothing about business, so we’ll leave the serious analysis for someone smarter (perhaps you, commenters?) But there are a few other, unrelated things I want to direct your attention to. First, this week’s Sinica podcast is even more excellent than they usually are. If you aren’t already listening, get on that. Also, check out this new project, an attempt to translate many of Ai Weiwei’s tweets into English. It’s very new, and with only two translators so far, they’re hard-pressed to keep up with Ai’s constant torrent of tweets, but as someone who has translated quite a bit of Ai Weiwei himself, I find it pretty interesting, and you might too. They also have an interesting interpretation of the “Lord Ai” phenomenon.

UPDATE: Apparently, there have been three more suicides since I posted this.




16 Comments

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  1. hm

    -+

    I wonder how many people will sign those forms. I actually wonder if there will be a strike…

  2. Jones

    -+

    I can not use my iPhone because there’s blood on it. There’s blood on the iPhone. The blood. So much of it. Can’t wipe the screen clean. Can’t get it off. 8gb of blood. The software is messed up and it’s stuck playing Dethklok – Blood Ocean on loop.

  3. -+

    Too you guys, it may seem to be stupid. But as a matter of fact, The policy adjustment WASN’T meant to stop them from keeping their employee suicide, it is meant to deny the responsibility of their employee’s suicide and avoid compensation. What a company!

    • King Tubby

      -+

      chesstang. You nailed it. That is not a warm and furry document. It is a major weasel clause/out if an employee offs themselves.. Its about $$$$$$.

      And Jones. Your new personna across sites is not so funny. Playa has the monopoly, not that it is worth much, so why compete.

      Be nornal, or is your fundy redneck ‘hood finally getting to you and sending you over the abyss.

    • B-real

      -+

      Who gets compensated for committing suicide. There is no clause in any company or insurance that I issued or been employed with that says money is exchanged upon the event of suicide. Although this is China and things can be different.

      But there are clauses in company insurances where in the event of death during company time the employer +employee’s beneficiary gets X amount paid for its loss. But suicide only disqualifies the employee and employer gets paid.

      As an employer this looks like it could be a way to weed out the ones that are contemplating suicide. People who are content will sign and go on with their lives. Those who do not agree “may” have issues that need attention and risk management is put into place. By not signing brings up questions, like “are they not happy with their employment here?” or “are they looking for compensation for their family?” ,”devious motives to obtain capital gains from workers comp”or any underlying complication that may cause their dis-content and result to an on-site suicide, injury.

      Back in the states we lost an upper management guy. His pay was great but his pressure was still too high in his personal life and he hung himself in his office. If his boss would have caught wind of his condition before hand we would have told him blow some steam off with pay take medical leave something that will make sure the company gets an important asset back and making money.

      My heart goes out to these families and their losses.

  4. Goodness

    -+

    I Harry Wang do solemnly swear, under penalty of death, that I shall never ever kill myself on company grounds.

    If company loyalty meant anything to these selfish jumpers, they would have flung themselves off of the building of a rival company. But noooo!

  5. Jones

    -+

    They need to get rid of those fluorescent bulbs and use full-spectrum lights. Obviously there’s a depressing element to working there. It must be the lights.

  6. -+

    I’m not sure Apple deserve to be singled out – the company supplies many other companies; not just Apple. Wouldn’t it be better to provide a little bit of balance?
    Talking of which, the previous clause to the one you’ve illustrated contains a positive element:
    2. In terms of my own responsibilities, if I have great difficulties or frustrations I will reach out to relatives to resolve them or report them to the company director, I will also agree to contact and communicate with colleagues, personal staff and relatives.
    And some perhaps less positive:
    However, I will not harm myself or others; I agree that, in order for the company to protect me and others, it can send me to a hospital should I exhibit abnormal physical or mental problems.
    It can’t be easy employing over 400,000 people…

    • -+

      UK Visas –

      In reality, there should be 3 groups of focus

      1) Foxconn – For the obvious reason that there are now 10+ employees who have jumped to their death

      2) Foxconn’s Customers (Apple, HP, Dell, MOtorola, Nokia, and others) – As a group, they must now act. The time for cursory “”investigations” are over, and while Foxconn may have each of them by the balls, they can act collectively to reverse the equation

      3) Apple – Apple, and more specifically its China based (Taiwanese managed) supply chain is toxic beyond Foxconn. Remember those 100 employees who were recently exposed to n-Hexane? Or how about the strike at the SAME Wintek facility in January over back pay? Or how about the issue of underage labor, or the fact that half of their suppliers DO NOT COMPLY with local environmental standards.

      It is a set of stakeholders that is complex, and I think the media would be best to focus on the fact that there are two different issues to be resolved: (1) Foxconn suicides and (2) Apple’s wider supply chain problems

      R

  7. -+

    Just reminds me of the old stories out of the factories in Detroit like:

    Why did factories have curtains on the windows? Answer: To cover the windows when the company needed to hose out the blood and gore from the machinery.

    Or… the story of how a couple of plant managers attempted to sneak the corpse of a worker (who died on the toilet from a heart attack) out of the plant and into the factory parking lot – to avoid paying widow extra money.

    No – the issues at Foxconn – combined with the issues that came out during the GuangDong Factory Riot/XinJiang Province Riot – should serve the powers to be a very big warning that P.R. China’s reputation at “Sweatshop to the World” is a very, very well deserved “honor”.

  8. Lolz

    -+

    Foxconn doesn’t only make the bloody iPads (hehe) and iPhones, it also supplies hardware to other big names like Hp, intel (most intel motherboards), Nintendo (wii), Sony(ps2, ps3), etc. So I do wonder if this is specifically an apple (which just surpassed microsoft to be the worlds top valued company) problem.

    Ya the suicide docs ppl have to sign simply shifts the responsibility back to the workers. But it will prob backfire because the actual cost of the suicides really will be delivered by the media, who will certainly report these stories.

    Good points about the suicide rates. I think some of it could be copycats but overall there is definitely something weird going on.

    Finally, i am not sure about rest of china but in shanghai where most of the Taiwanese expats reside it’s well known that Taiwanese bosses are 1)super stingy (their wives are the ones who like to show off wealth) 2)always keep at least one local mistress. I am curious to see that there has been very little Taiwan bashing at all. If this were a toyota plant things would definitely be different.

  9. -+

    There is a long Chinese tradition that suicide may be used by powerless people, as a method to revenge certain injustices inflicted upon them by some oppressive group or person. This is serious business where such beliefs are firmly held; consequently, companies definitely need to distance themselves from such actions as being a reflection of their respective polices.

    • Bin Wang

      -+

      That’s right Mao. In Western self-centric culture, suicide is far more unfathomable. But in China, the value of a single life, even one’s own, is understood to be bargainable at a certain value. Perhaps this is not much different from the thought of a surrounded soldier, who fights so that he may sell his life as dearly as possible. One comes to terms with such things, esp. if the alternative (life) is so unbearable anyways (poverty, small pay, terrible work, oppressive conditions, etc.).

      Reminds me of a story I once heard as a child in China. Back during colonialism and the beginnings of the boxer rebellion, a christian missionary was killed by a group of boxers. The colonials demanded that the group be executed, except that no one could identify the individuals involved anymore. The weak emperor, wishing to appease the foreigners, didn’t know what to do, so he offered money to citizens who would volunteer themselves. Given this “bargain,” many poor jumped at the chance, the people were selected, executed, and their families paid in secret. Can you imagine Westerners doing this?

      • lolz

        -+

        “Can you imag­ine West­ern­ers doing this?”

        If I remember correctly the plot for the play “Death of a Salesman” by Author Miller had the main character committing suicide, in order to get the insurance money to pay his wife or lover. But that wouldn’t work today because insurance policies explicitly forbid paying for suicides.

        Agreed with your overall point though.

  10. -+

    My conclusion is that modern consumerism and globalization is fueled by the 21st century version of the industrial manufacturing concentration camp. This new business model for contract manufacturing has been perfected by Taiwanese companies like Foxconn and Wintek.

    For a possible solution, suggest that you read this article by Tom Foremski:
    http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/mt/archives/2010/05/foxconn_suicide.php

Continuing the Discussion