Twisted Realities

The latest failed attempt to write off the spate of suicides at Foxconn comes courtesy of the Global Supply Chain Council.

First, consider the source. The GSSC is China based, and because of the relationship (read: censorship) of that nation’s government and domestic businesses, it calls into question the basic perspective any organization will have when it comes to critically examining the local landscape.

Second, by putting “crisis” in quotes, it seeks to diminish what reasonable people consider appalling: a host of suicides across multiple manufacturing campuses. Further, it calls the discussions of Foxconn and Apple “headline hype,” akin to the military phrase for civilian deaths, “collateral damage.” These are human lives at stake. If there is something more precious, I don’t know what it is.

Then there are minor factual liberties, such as the suggestion that a February 2010 CSR investigation into child labor practices was initiated by Apple, when indeed it was spurred by widely disseminated media reporting.

And then there’s this monstrous statement:

In any population of 300,000 young people in urban China, one should statistically expect at least as many suicides per year as seen at Foxconn recently. Factory workers are overwhelmingly younger than 25, and the suicide rate among Chinese youth (similar to youth everywhere) is higher than the overall average. Many U.S. universities would be ecstatic if their suicide rates fell to levels as low as those at Foxconn China.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. As we’ve noted before, the proper context for the suicides at Foxconn is not how they stack up against China (or US schools, for that matter) at large, but rather against other large industrial manufacturing operations within China.

To understand whether working at Foxconn decreases the suicide rate, as the GSSC argues, the suicide rates at operations like ECS must also be baselined. And if people are jumping off tall buildings at Honda in Shenzhen, I haven’t read about it.

What has taken place over the past year at Foxconn is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. I’m not surprised a Chinese-based organization is defending its benefactors, but that doesn’t make them right.