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.

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association ( He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow

4 thoughts on “Twisted Realities

  1. Loss of any young life.. is a mournful event.
    Public statement (example given) is …
    at minimum – insensitive and poor taste
    at max – horrific representation of value placed on human life.

    Interesting perspective (your reasoning)…
    Comparing suicide rates among industrial players….
    Is there any other company facility in the world as large Foxconn’s at this location in China?
    Kinda hard to compare apples to apples.

    Are there any statistics on the subject .. in China, in US, or any other areas?
    should they be compared by industry?
    should they be compared by location?
    should they be compared by size?
    should they be compared by pay scales?
    should they be compared by stress factors within a given industry?
    should they be compared by management style of a company?

    I have often heard Dentists in the US have a unusually high suicide rate… (I think this was compared to other professionals in US.. )

    My point…….

    I have a hard time applying statistics to human life….. for any reason.
    Statistics… often- mis-used, often- don’t give meaningful insight to what is taking place.
    Statistics are just one tool.. it shouldn’t be the only tool used in forming an option/judgment.
    Within the context of “Twisted Realities”.. You have not provided any other information.
    yea.. you provided examples of the players trying to control the media..but not of specific wrong doing by Foxconn to the individuals that took their own lives.


    “These are human lives at stake. If there is something more precious, I don’t know what it is.”
    There are many people in the world that value many things above human life.
    Most often in this country…. freedom is stated as worth “giving my life for”…(don’t get me started on just how vague this term is).. but we lose many young men to this.
    If you are a parent.. you can come up with many more reasons..(give my life to protect my child)
    If you are leading a country.. you can come up with reasons for “the greater good”.
    (I suspect this type of reasoning is used by the Chinese gov and Foxconn )

    Personally… I think the concept of ” ends justifying the means” is self defeating.

    Should workers in China.. specifically Foxconn be treated better? of course.
    Will this effect the suicide rate at this faciltiy? I am skeptical…
    I think the issue is much more complex.

  2. Whether it’s the environment, alternate energy or consumer electronics, the public ultimately contuniues to vote with its wallet. Absurd assertions expessed in such apparently evenhanded tones (and published widely without without challenge such as your own) make it that much easier for people to continue to look the other way.

  3. Agreed, Rich, although I think what the responsible media is beginning to do is take a critical look at what, exactly, is going on, and bringing that story to the masses. Consider the ongoings at Foxconn are now a regular news item in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. One couldn’t say that a year ago. It takes a while for the mainstream media to pick up on a story, and even longer for the public to absorb it. But they will.

  4. The primary reason I read Mike’s column….. to be better informed.
    For this .. Mike, I thank you.
    You do a good job of aggregating info.

    To equate everything to money.. does humanity a dis-service.
    To think in these terms… is distorting to the understanding of the world.
    I think you already know this.

    Rich people kill themselves.
    Poor people kill themselves.

    Statistics don’t tell the story about Foxconn or why people kill themselves.

    This story isn’t about Foxconn…

    Rich, you alluded to the real story … it’s about us (looking the other way).

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