Foxconn Suicides

Foxconn Technology Group is a Taiwanese multinational company with its main plant operating out of Shenzhen, China. Foxconn is hands down the largest manufacturer of electronics, computers and computer components in the world. They produce items such as the Mac mini, iPod, iPad, iPhone, Dell Computers, HP motherboards, Wii, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Amazon kindle, and Cisco Equipment just to name a few.

This behemoth company employs a small army of employees, over 300,000 in its Shenzhen factory alone. The problem is that there have been 11 suicide attempts in a span of just over five months, of those attempts only two survived. The allegations of the management’s military style conduct and inhumane treatment of employees was brought to light by two reporters from the China Business News earlier this year. Since then, they have been sued by Foxconn for Disambiguation and Defamation, and won the court’s decision. The journalists had their assets frozen and a whole slew of drama took place since their story was published. It wasn’t until the intervention of Reporters without Borders’s persistence, to urge Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple) to take action that reduced the $3.77 million dollar sentence against the journalists to just a symbolic 12 cents. Since then all reporters in China are very cautious on the reporting’s of this company, rightfully so. I guess it pays to have judges in your pocket.

Apple and Sony as well as some of the other customers of Foxconn have done preliminary investigation on their own to substantiate these accusations (due diligence or fear of litigation). A handful of (current) employees were interviewed for one hour and remarkably nothing out of the ordinary was found, besides over-extended work-time and lack of management compassion, which the company has agreed to make changes on its management policies.

I happen to know personally few of the past and current management as well as line employees that had shared freely on this topic. What I’ve come to learn is a far different story than that of what is found on publication for the general public. You see employees will say one thing to reporters and to investigators under treat of the company’s pendulum and a whole another thing to a friend of a friend over Johnny Walker. However, since this company preaches themselves, that they’ve single handedly saved this region out of depression and paved the way of progress and government through projects, scholarships, taxes, civil infrastructure, etc. You can guess that whatever I report will be limited to commentary of my own opinions and what he said, she said. But you will get an idea that your iPhones and the like comes at the expense of not animal testing but of human suffering.

Obviously we can’t be all one sided and must empathize with the company’s management to keep in line over 200,000 employees that barely have a grade school education. Imagine the nightmares of let’s say a company picnic for 300,000 people? Logistics, how would you move that many people to get from one place to another within the time allotted? How would you feed them and set activities? How would you deal with necessary facilities and waste management? How would you deal with a 10% disgruntled or problematic employee ratio that’s usually around the 17~20 years old age group? How do you make policies on loss prevention for so many undereducated, underpaid and overworked employees with the company’s needs to increasing output while suffering from shrinking margins? How do you deal with a conservative 38% employee turnover rate?

The Military does a great job addressing these issues; I should know I served in the US armed forces in time of war. But none of the military members I knew tried to commit suicide even under the heaviest stress of them all, the possibility of death or dismemberment.

So what makes a young person in China male or female want to end their lives? Answer: Because they feel there are no other options.

Happy, is a nineteen year old assembly-line worker from a poor region of China. She is the eldest sister of four and sends as much money as she can back home from her 1000rmb ($150) per month salary. I have listed just some of her complaints and odd requirements with its penalties that this company would enforce if she breaks these unwritten policies. The oddity is that most workers feel upper management either doesn’t know these practices are taking place or doesn’t care.

Happy likes washing her own clothes by hand, she claims it calms her in times of stress. However, if she washes the mandatory dry cleaning of her factory uniform then she will be penalized 500rmb. That’s half her salary.

If she is late, she will be charged 100rmb per minute. If she refuses or can’t work overtime when needed, she will be removed from work line-up for over a month or until she can come up with the fee for reinstatement. That means no money to send home for a month. That means don’t think about getting sick. If you talk during working hours you get penalized 100rmb. No Cell phones on duty, so what happens in a family emergency? She even had to borrow money once to pay the negative balance from her salary. Imagine working for a whole month then ending up having to pay instead of getting paid.

The first month’s salary is kept as a deposit for the uniform and other items. They say it will be returned once you leave as last-pay. But she hasn’t heard of anyone getting back the full amount, there instinctively will be something wrong with the uniform or some other problem that will warrant a large deduction.

Personal items must be purchased at a pre-designated store on site. If found that you have another brand then it will be thrown out.

She had to pay to get this 18/hr a day job with one day off a month and must pay 100rmb per month to keep it. It does seem that a middle man is making off like a bandit with this set up.

There are 12 other dorm-mates that share her small room; however she can’t understand them nor even know their names or wants to. They are all from different parts of China speaking a different dialect. She wishes she can be with some of the other girls from her province at the factory. She’s upset that there are no support groups and she is so far from home. I asked her why they wouldn’t want you to be with your fellow province-men or friends; she explained that management has this paranoia of a factory mutiny or strike. They don’t like large gatherings of workers from the same area.

I happen to know for a fact that there are facilities at the factory for down-time such as swimming pool, tennis court, basketball court, gym, coffee shop, and a spa. She claims to never have seen it, doesn’t know where it is, and if it does exist then it would be for upper-management and not for the employees. Furthermore, even if they did let us use it, it would only be for two minutes anyway. Since when work is finished your thinking about getting washed up as fast as you can before the hot water is gone and getting some shut-eye before you’re rushing to get to your station again. She tends to forgo breakfast to get a little more sleep.

She was approached by a certain manager offering favors and incentives; if she refused these advances then she would have had a very hard time at the factory. Needless to say she came into this factory as a girl but left a woman. She claims that this is nothing compared to other girls she knows, even as far as rape. At one point the security guards had beaten her boyfriend (that worked with her) to the point he needed to be taken to the hospital. She feels this was out of retaliation or jealousy from the manager. Other claims of Gestapo techniques are far more serious, so much so that I cannot in good conscience write about it without substantiation.

Since none of these claims can be substantiated nor refuted, I can only elicit these claims as hearsay and offer the reader a choice to believe or not to believe (that is not the question). The question is are we really better off with these things, with supply and demand, that it takes the most sacred of innocence of adolescent and early adulthood, trust?
By JonT

25 Comments on Foxconn Suicides

  1. I m out of words the only feeling i have in me is remorse for these people, i am turning 20 very soon and Happy’s story saddens my day. actually reading this article was the last in my mind until our labour law lecture gave us a homework about the suicidal Afconn employees. I WOULDNT WISH what they are going through even on my worst enemy(not that i have one) i just hope and believe that ONE OF THE good days God will free them from this slavery.

  2. I cannot comment on the working conditions in Foxconn, Shenzhen, as I know little about them, but I do have some comment on your statistics.

    A reported 9 suicides (plus 2 attempts) in 5 months amongst 300,000 employees amounts to a rate of 7.2 per 100,000 per year. This is around half the population average (13.9 per 100,000 per year according to Wikipedia although this varies with age, sex and social group and need not be fully comparable). Thus, there is nothing in the reporting that indicates a particularly high suicide rate at this factory.

    In your comparison with your own military service, you are committing a common fallacy in comparing numbers rather than rates: I suppose the number of soldiers you knew were hardly a fraction of the 300,000 employees you are comparing against. In fact, the suicide rate in the US Army has been reported to be above the national average (20.2 per 100,000 per year in the army versus 19.2 in the general population for what I suppose is the same age and sex composition).

    While every suicide is a tragedy, blaming them on the working conditions at Foxconn seems at best unfounded. That said, keeping international focus on the working condition of those who produce our consumer products is a good thing. However, from reports elsewhere I get the impression that Foxconn is more concerned about their workers welfare than what is common in much of China.


  3. Dear Einar,

    Thank you for your comments it does help in giving international awareness on this tragic situation. Now, by your calculations of 7.2 per 100,000 per year means 21.6 per year since there are over 300,000 conservatively and further calculate 22 years of manufacturing, not that the rate is the same every year but you get idea. So, how many human lives is that?

    Yes, unfortunately there are suicides in the military it is a very high stressed environment job. However, I personally have never heard off or witnessed a suicide in modern day combat. Mind you I could be wrong, but from experience when your on the font-lines all you care about is the buddy next to you and your fellow Marines or servicemen. The comradery gets you through tough times and the military is getting better on recognizing symptoms and getting help to those who needs it. If all else fails then there is a way out, you can quite with a dishonorable discharge.

    Uncommon to popular belief, suicides rarely occur in factories or place of employment…people just leave they don’t off themselves, yes in China. I live here and have to deal with factories and the legal system all day every day. That being said, what would happen if you couldn’t leave…said too much already.

    By the way you don’t work for them do you?

  4. Dear Jon,

    Your insinuation that I must “work for them” leads me suspect arguments may be waisted, but let me explain once more to see if I can make it clearer.

    With as many as 300,000 employees, if these are fairly representative of the Chinese, one would expect suicide rates similar to the rest of China, which would be on average 41.7 suicides per year at Foxconn, Shenzhen. Of course, this is a very rough estimate: the exact number would depend on age and sex composition and social background (rural vs. urban).

    At Foxconn, Shenzhen, however, the suicide rate is half of what you find in China in general. The reason it is still a considerable number is because there are so many employees there: 300,000. Of course, if the work at Foxconn itself was a leading contributor, one would have expected suicide rates above the average for a comparable population, not below as is the case here.

    When you argue that you never heard of suicides in the US military, you are clearly missing the fact that the suicide rate in the US Army (don’t know for the other branches) is three times higher than at Foxconn, Shenzhen. However, you’d have to know a few thousand soldiers to have a substantial risk of personally coming across a single case. Yet, instead of criticising the US Army for having an above average suicide rate, you criticise Foxconn for having a below average suicide rate, which simply doesn’t add up.

    Your also seem to assume that the suicides are related to the work: both at Foxconn and in the military (during service). Amongst the suicides in the US Army, the most common cause given was relationship problems which accounted for a fair portion of the cases. Service related suicides generally come after finishing service and returning to civilian society…sometimes years later.

    I also find your claim that Foxconn employees are unable to leave somewhat odd. As I understand from other reports, Foxconn, as well as other factories in South China, have a high turn-over of employees, i.e. who actually do choose to leave.

    All in all, I cannot help but think that you (and others) are trying to pick a culprit to stick the blame to for something you don’t understand: why they killed themselves. That’s a very common and human reaction, but not very useful.

    In particular, it is a common fallacy to assume that events that coincide must have a common cause: i.e. that these 9 suicides and 2 attempts must have something particular in common that distinguishes them from other suicides in China. However, chances are that if the same 300,000 had found work elsewhere, judging by the general suicide rate in China, the number of suicides amongst them would have been similar or higher: it might not have been exactly the same persons, and they might well have chosen different means, and it most likely would not have been reported in the media, but apart from that there would have been no difference.

    So, the short summary is: The suicide rate at Foxconn is not particularly high, and although you may disapprove of the working conditions there, blaming those suicides on the company remains baseless.


  5. Are your really serious with this crap…did you not read that people are dead!!! Dead, not because of something noble like; fighting for freedom, protection of life or property but for financial gain. Were you not weaned properly as an infant or perhaps your parents failed to love you as a child? What is a person 3,000 miles away siting comfortably on a couch saying I’ve read this and I’ve read that, so it must be true. Advocates none-the-less for a company that have literally killed people for sake of money. I am here, in the middle of this shit. Stop talking about something you have no clue about. Or perhaps if you are as compassionate as you sound, I employ put your money where your mouth is…I will get you a job at Foxconn guaranteed…18 hrs a day, 28 days a month all for $294 per month salary. If I even think that you have stolen something then I will torture you and threaten your family. If that doesn’t work I will make you commit suicide. Do you understand what I’m saying here!!! Stop wasting my time with this bull-shit and wake up!!

  6. Well Said…Just Well said. one didn’t have to live through World War II in order to understand and know what the people went through, I mean you hear stories from various sources and for God sake; how long can you say it is not true. I have many many Chinese and Taiwanese friends who live in those countries. And they all tell me about the value of rule of law: So Can you Can you for God’s sake pull your head of your a.. and stop your bullsh.. philosophical and scientific argument and look at the facts. At least, here in USA someone can put some pressure on these bastards. Better than nothing.

  7. By the way, my previouse message should have been posted for Einar. And frankly, I don’t mind seeing someone analyze and break down someone else’s argument into facts and assumption.

  8. It seems very sad alot of the things that the company does to take advantage of the employees and work them like slaves. That in what I can only express in simple English in hopes that Foxxcon managers could read. The living conditions at the factorys are unhappy. There are alot of things that they could do to make the employees happy. Reduce the rent on the dormatorys. Reduce the number of employees in each dorm. Offer Laundry services and community baths and hot showers for the employees. Bring in Managers that would treat the employees better. Offer incentives for employees to stay longer like a paid weeks vacation after a year. Things that American companys would do but maybe a halfway for the chinese companys to treat their employees. reduce mandatory overtime to 2 hours a day. Allow employees to talk quitely to friends and encourage them to make friends. Eliminate the dry cleaning fines. Allow each dormatory to have one computer. Reduce the size of the computer lab.

  9. Thanks for this insight. The treatment & conditions of these workers is appauling, and it is to the shame of Foxconn. It is also a good illustration of the social toll of Western society’s obsession with consumerism It think this issue should make us all think about where our products come from, and that luxury items should be priced more highly if it means that labourers get a fair pay. As for me, I won’t be rushing out to get an iphone.

  10. Terry Winchester // August 20, 2010 at 10:18 pm //

    Dear JonT
    We have composed a letter regarding an effective solution for the present situation.
    We would like to send the letter to the CEO’s of the five corporations involved with the suicide problem. Please advise as to how you can assist us.


    June was the worst month ever for Army suicides, according to Army figures released today that include suicides among active duty soldiers as well as inactive Guardsmen and Reservists .

    There were 21 active duty Army suicides in the month of June and 11 on the inactive Guard and Reserve side, totaling 32 for the month. The 21 active duty suicides ties the monthly record set in January of 2009.

    I guess rough working conditions for Americans don’t concern you, only when they happen overseas. I hope you are not an American.

    If you pity anyone in China, you should pity the coal miners. they have it much worse than the factory workers.

  12. Dear Jon

    I am working with Terry on the Foxconn suicides. We are trying to contact the CEO’s of the major players to bring to their attentiion that we have a solution to improve the “Mindframe” of the workers. This is a unique technique using self hypnosis which Terry Winchester has been using with astounding results over the last 35 years in South Africa. He has been receiving global enquiries regarding the programme.

    Look forward to receiving your response.

  13. Hi my name is chris and technology is my life, i stumbled upon this article and have sent a link on face book to here… and although i wont by anything foxconn relative [which in a way make is good and bad, good if change is made bad if our only action is to stop getting foxconn products, if we only stop the purchase of it we are doing an injustice for it hurts the company es… but i cant imagine how that will trickle down and harm those workers even more if you plan to do nothing about this situation then buy the fucking products so you dont make there slave work be in vein, else stop purchasing the stuff and help raise awareness… or better yet write a them a letter and send it by snail mail…. cause emails are wasted attempts for they have autospocnes to them and are not read. OR better yet send your hand written letters to Steven Jobs, microsoft, and vendors who sell there products like [where i got my motherboard] i suggest if you agree with me message me on face book Else if for what ever reason you do not want to actively help AGAIN simply not buying there products wont help…. if sales went down even 1 percent or two percent…. it does not good to the slave workers…. for upper management will find a marketing solution to it sales will rise back up and the bottom feeders are left in the dark or to balance the loss they may take even more from the workers…. point being, upper management seems to have a history of finding the easy solution to profit, make it the little guys problem. As of this moment i nominate this company for the uber douche awards. At the same time if there are robin hood crackers [still sometimes called hackers] [black or gray hatted] focus your efforts on this company…. kind of like MOD [sorry MOD and phiber optic if i miss understand your intentions in the past of ethical hacking and mastering of technology] as well as captian zap who switched at&t’s clocks. I would do something to them if i could but i r still a noob, learning of my friends text books. A message to everyone hackers are not always bad most the time they are good white and grey hats.
    [getting back on topic]
    making a difference, there is no voting here, but regardless you should understand that regardless ou make a difference either with your actions or the absence of,,, the act of absence can be equal to or greater then the presence of something, Like the absence of a parent or the presence of a gang. I encourage change i do not encourage harm. Letters, boycotting, raising awareness are not the same as defacing a webpage, or changing the payroll software [granting the slaveies a few extra bucks] why do i say this… cause one day i want to be a paid ethical hacker, this is my mentality hack to make the world a better more free and open one. I also will help people start for ethical hacking if you dont know where to start XD ty and have a great day.

  14. Some info on hack in the past if curious []

  15. Hi Oneword

    You probably saw our letter as we are trying to get a response from Jon T. We have a system developed in South Africa over 35 years which teaches self hypnosis. This system could help alleviate the workers’ suffering. We can offer this solution to the current problem but we need to try to reach the right contacts as you rightly stated. Perhaps you can give us Steve Jobs contact E-mail address so we can make our suggestion to him.

  16. ArmyVet,

    The intrinsic value of human life is precious no matter what nation you call home, being an Army Vet (if you have seen action) would know this from the very marrow of every bone.

    I have sacrificed more than I can bear for the United States Military and have earned the privilege of calling myself American many times over, I will NOT have my patriotism questioned.

    Ever military personnel and Chinese coal miners alike have a choice and know the dangers of the occupation before going in. Remuneration is given and sometimes more if the occupational hazard is higher. Understandably, some are naive but no one is pointing a gun.

    Through constant pressure and international exposure this company have re-establish its directives and policies, it wasn’t always so. Again, the word choice was the forbearing force in question and the point you’ve seem to have missed.

    Every human being needs to have the inalienable right of choice, without it life is bleak at best. Every serviceman is essentially a member of a large family and regrettably if one falls no matter how, it detriments the cohesion of the whole. However, there are options for servicemen.

    The story I’ve wrote is from experiencing another kindred spirits testimony and journal, without restraint I tell you there was no hope for some. Improvements have been made, people have noticed, changes have been made. All we can do is hope for the best. This will be my last entry for this story.

  17. Now that i have spent a few minutes looking into messaging mr, jobs i have to say this…. self hypnosis would my help who/what. i understand what your work does, i know very rich men have self induced hypnosis. but to hypnotize them would in a sense give them less room for advancement, [unless i am mis led then inform me but…] Does this not strip them to have a mind of there own, is this a form of slavery? controling ones mind, i understand how effecient brainwashing can be… and how it can ease suffering on a massive scale, similar to my favorite story of Oda nobunaga a japanese warlord from fuedal japan who killed not only the iga ninja clan but killed the warlords of japan one by one and united japan via espionage and assassionations, In his era those methods where more humane [and i want you to realize the difference in the age] I hope not to offend you, At that time in that enviroment Seppuko was a way to restore honor, today it is done in public relations.. so times have changed, i just love that culture and enjoy refering to it… i am not saying you are harming people, just stating you are finding the easiest potentially fastest solution with as little friction as possible, i like that….
    My concern is the long term effects, and the value that these people will have for the selves. if you have the same vision as IBM to build a smarter tommoro then we must then overflow with creativity, and stunting the mind via brainwashing i fear may halt that… i dont know how brainwashing has truly evolved i would like to know…. and think indeed it may help… but a network when web 3.0 and 4.0 come around the more creative the minds of men and women the more productive our world will be, and potentially our galaxy, and beyond [as believed with the Epoch theories
    Epoch one atomic, Epoch 2 molecular and cells, Epoch three network organisms forming consciousness, aka Brains, Epoch four [today] Technology, [Epoch five, the fusion of Biological and techological brains, Epoch six, universal consciousness [computation at its peak all things
    become consciousness] To hold back progress on any scale is to prevent the answer the he most basic questions why are we here, what is beyond the stars ect [sorry i get kinda deep sometimes, i is a geek like that.

    I look forward to your response and thank you for you patience and understanding

    a nine year old girl in 3rd grade sending a letter to jobs

    emailing Mr. Jobs

    But i just recalled that t it is more effective to send a written letter “by hand” to his office and more then one, of course if he does not respond to the first then send him another in a week or two. that is one email that i havefound i wil spend 30 min to look for more then i have to hit the books agian XD if you need more info please remember my facebook ty…!/secret.squirell01100010

    I do apollogize, for not being on for a few weeks, was going through a move, dont be afraid o hit me up on facebook, steve jobs email huh? … hmm i can give it a shot XD do you have a face book or any social medium we can communicate on? i respond faster on face book since the 5,000 + unread emails in my email are a sign that i most likely wont check my email for a responce on this site,

  18. …. no replies yet :(

  19. Truongphu // October 19, 2010 at 3:54 am //

    Working 18hrs a day and only one day off per month ???
    If this true, this really abuse !, how can a person keep physical & mental health balanced with only 6hrs left a day to sleep, bath, eat, relax after 18 hrs working ??

  20. No longer purchasing these items.

  21. Elinar ! you dont have take this issue personal okie. Base your critque on your opinion and not with the US Army.

    Grow up and stop thinking like a …….

  22. OK what most of you have forgotten is that 10 years ago we new about as much about mainland china as we know about North Korea now. it was not until that horrid affair with the student being run over by a tank that the world really took notice. I have to give credit to any country that can change so much in such a in all reality a short period of time. Now things are still not perfect but we have to realize that we live quite differently in Canada and the U.S. then the rest of the world one only needs to go south of the boarder too see that. Human rights are improving all be it at a pace most of us would wish was faster but there still improving

  23. If this is true, then those who contributed to the creation of these conditions must be gathered up and punished to the maximum allowable by Islamic law, and these people compensated immensely!

  24. seriously is it worth it get all these gadgets ..when people have to go through such torture

  25. Man, is this ever sad. You’d think that a company making so much money would have a little compassion on their employees but no. Corporate greed has gotten ahold of management them and turned them into compassion-less slave drivers who could care less about the people that work for them… just as long as the managers and executives and the CEO are filling their pockets with money WHO CARES ABOUT THE WORKERS, RIGHT??? I think “worker’s rights” and Foxconn are about as far apart from each other as the sun is from Pluto. The day that Foxconn actually puts two cents into their employees well-being is gonna be the day that pigs fly.

    Also, when Foxconn got sued or whatever for bad working conditions, Apple audited them? Seriously? How stupid is that? Of course Apple found no problems at all! THEY ARE FOXCONN’S BIGGEST CUSTOMER!!! DO YOU REALLY THINK THEY ARE GOING TO ACTUALLY SAY ANYTHING BAD ABOUT THEM??? I’d be very interested to see what a person who wasn’t a direct buyer of Foxconn had to say about the conditions there had they sent him in? But hey, that’s just another “it’ll happen when pigs fly” analogy, sadly.

    My heart goes out to all the workers there who are forced to work in unimaginable conditions while their managers, who in the meantime are sitting in their huge mansions drinking beer and watching TV or whatever, expect them to just smile and become basically a machine. To the executives at Foxconn, you are not a human/person, but rather a machine and nothing more.

    All in all, this is yet another example of how corrupt, lopsided, and unfair business is these days. Shame on Foxconn and all the corporations whose infinite amount of greed has caused to blatantly disregard basic workers and human rights.

Leave a comment