Raises and Safety Nets Will Not Prevent Suicide

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June 1, 2010

I spent some time on Sunday morning catching up on reading articles in my GoogleReader and came across a disturbing story.  So disturbing that I read several stories about the situation in order to learn more.  The story was about a tech company in China called Foxconn Technology Group.  This is the largest electronic contractor of products like the iPhone and other electronic gadgets by Apple, HP, Dell, and Nokia, to name a few.  The article on MSNBC.com told about the rash of suicides they have experienced this year at the company.  Ten employees successfully committed suicide and three were attempts.  They had another handful at some of their factories in other parts of China.

Oddly, many of the suicides were employees who have been with the company six months or less.  And, while they almost certainly had other problems, the work environment is being cited as the leading factor that led to the suicides, all of which took place at work.  Foxconn is reported to be a work environment that appears to be good (company swimming pool, tree lined paths inside the compound, etc.), however, the manufacturing lines move too fast and the goals are almost unreachable.  The employees work at least 12 hours a day and bring home the equivalent of about $130 per week.  It’s deplorable.

So, what is a company to do when something like this happens?

Throw money at it.  Oh, and some safety nets around the building since most of the suicides are jumpers.

Yes, it seems that the employees will all be given a raise of 20%, on average, and they are being asked to sign a document that promises that they won’t commit suicide.  Really?  Foxconn management must be kidding.

While a raise will be nice for these underpaid workers, that certainly will not solve the problem.  I am sure that the overall working conditions contributed to the mass suicides.  Why don’t they talk about reducing the number of hours worked in a day or the speed of the production line?  Why don’t they address employees needs?  With China’s economy in trouble as it is with a shortage of workers, you’d think that organizational leadership would be looking at ways to both attract and then retain good workers.

What do you think?  Do you think a raise will be sufficient to stop the suicides at Foxconn?  What other options do they have that will create a culture where suicide is not thought of as an option?  Let me know in the comments.

5 Comments

  • I wonder if the idea of a promise to the company on a topic like this has a deeper cultural significance in China than it would in the U.S.?

  • At face value, the numbers are of a level that if it occured in the US, Congress would have the management team called toANC, OSHA would marshal its resources to look into working conditions, and Erin Brokovitch would come out of retirement to look into environmental factors behind the deaths.

    This is a cultural issue that has historically been hidden from global view. If this facility had nothing to do with the iPhone it might not have even made the news. The culture you speak of is the Mao culture not a corporate one; China’s version of OSHA is still populated with Party favorites and I would be surprised if Foxconn didn’t have party ties as well.

    I’m sure these ties roll over into recruiting.

    While money helps, I’m more curious why these suicides take place; only then will we know. But a culture that doesn’t “promote” suicide as an option shows how far HR needs to travel to understand people.

  • Thanks so much for raising this important issue and sharing this information. This is the dark side of the progress and promise of technology and I’m sure not a topic too many people want to address, especially at Apple.
    I believe that reducing this to a Chinese cultural issue will not deal with the complete picture. The reality is that Apple contracts with this company to produce a product that is one of the most popular in the US. So what responsibility – moral, ethical and legal does Apple have to these workers? And what responsibility do Apple users in this country have as well?
    This tragic situation causes for deeper questions and solutions. It is absurd and disrespectful to even entertain the question of whether human beings receiving a 20% raise will stop killing themselves!
    Although many HR professionals in Western cultures may not feel compelled or have any need to deal with such profound questions, the reality is that a growing global workforce combined with expanding consumer consciousness will only produce greater demand for answers and solutions.
    HR everywhere will have to dig much deeper into the human psyche and social and political conditions to deal with these problems in the future. I wonder how long understanding and working with the human psyche will still be labeled a “soft skill” in the future?

  • Thanks so much for raising this important issue and sharing this information. This is the dark side of the progress and promise of technology and I’m sure not a topic too many people want to address, especially at Apple.
    I believe that reducing this to a Chinese cultural issue will not deal with the complete picture. The reality is that Apple contracts with this company to produce a product that is one of the most popular in the US. So what responsibility – moral, ethical and legal does Apple have to these workers? And what responsibility do Apple users in this country have as well?
    This tragic situation causes for deeper questions and solutions. It is absurd and disrespectful to even entertain the question of whether human beings receiving a 20% raise will stop killing themselves!
    Although many HR professionals in Western cultures may not feel compelled or have any need to deal with such profound questions, the reality is that a growing global workforce combined with expanding consumer consciousness will only produce greater demand for answers and solutions.
    HR everywhere will have to dig much deeper into the human psyche and social and political conditions to deal with these problems in the future. I wonder how long understanding and working with the human psyche will still be labeled a “soft skill” in the future?

Comments are closed.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.

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