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Foxconnnets

And you thought the iTunes EULA was pretty demanding? “You are NOT allowed to commit suicide: Workers in Chinese iPad factories forced to sign pledges” -

Factories making sought-after Apple iPads and iPhones in China are forcing staff to sign pledges not to commit suicide, an investigation has revealed. At least 14 workers at Foxconn factories in China have killed themselves in the last 16 months as a result of horrendous working conditions.Many more are believed to have either survived attempts or been stopped before trying at the Apple supplier’s plants in Chengdu or Shenzen. After a spate of suicides last year, managers at the factories ordered new staff to sign pledges that they would not attempt to kill themselves, according to researchers. And they were made to promise that if they did, their families would only seek the legal minimum in damages.

Pictured above, nets outside the Foxconn factory.

If we all knew how and where everything we enjoyed was made, would we reconsider some of our purchases? It’s completely “black box” to all of us for the most part, who knows how much people are paid or what they need to agree to when making our iGadgets. Are you more or less likely get the new iMac knowing that the workers who made it needed to sign anti-suicide agreements? As a commenter pointed out, it’s not just Apple that uses Foxconn, pretty much everyone who makes things in major numbers seems to.

Post your thoughts up in the comments.

Related:

Ff Joelinchina F

1 Million Workers. 90 Million iPhones. 17 Suicides. Who’s to Blame?

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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Comments

  1. More than just Apple use Foxconn. I really wish people would remember that fact when posting stuff like this.

    Of course, simply stating Apple is going to increase the hit count in any article so sensationalise away.

    1. Anonymous says:

      hi darren, i don’t write things with “hit count” in mind, at least not things like this. i’ve updated the post t say this “As a commenter pointed out, it’s not just Apple that uses Foxconn, pretty much everyone who makes things in major numbers seems to.” – that fair?

      1. Sorry for the implication, but a lot of link baiting on various blogs tends to follow this same theme.

  2. johngineer says:

    Wow. The second clause in that contract scares the living hell out of me:

    “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.”

    So basically, if the company doesn’t like the way you are acting, it can commit you. In the context of the rest of the document, that might be read as “if the company thinks I might hurt myself or others, then it can force me to get help.” But the statement itself (assuming it’s translated correctly) can also be read as “If the company doesn’t like that I’m griping, talking to outside reporters, spreading dissent, or wearing a blue shirt, they can lock me away somewhere. I am giving them the authority to do this.”

    That is beyond disturbing.

    That’s something people need to think about next time they are whining about their problems with auto-correct on the iPad.

    1. Kevin Gunn says:

      It’s possible that your take on it is correct, but I suspect not. I don’t think you are giving Foxconn the right to lock you away, but it does mean that if the company believes you need hospitalization for mental illness and you refuse then they have the right to terminate your employment.

      It is, of course, very hard to be sure since we’re reading a translation from Chinese to English, and fine details are very often lost along the way.

  3. OMG! So let me get this straight. Rather than figure out what is wrong with the plant, they force the work force to sign a pledge not to kill themselves. Worse their families can’t sue for lots of money if they do?

    1. Anonymous says:

      There apparently was a point where families were paid for workers who suicided, that practice was stopped when it became apparent that it was increasing the suicide rate.

      And it’s also becoming clear that the plant is actually better than it’s surroundings, and the suicide issue was totally blown out of proportion. Is it great? No. Is it a hell hole? Not compared to not working at the plant…

      1. Ken says:

        Exactly; we forget that our forebearers went through the exact same thing about a century ago. It wasn’t because it’s a primitive practice that can be legislated away – it’s because when you’re ‘unskilled’ you need to work hard and prove yourself, earning skills the hard way while producing wealth and building savings which enable you to invest in things that amplify your wealth and invest in future generations. It’s a slow process that takes generations and we take what the people before us built for granted.

        The alternative isn’t a magical world of easy living, fast cars and cheap large two-topping pizzas. It’s digging through the trash hoping the rats didn’t just eat your dinner.

        1. Paul Norton says:

          Working hard and proving yourself is only helpful in an environment where those efforts are rewarded. You seem to have completely glossed over the entire labor movement. It wasn’t exactly an easy transition.

      2. Paul Norton says:

        So, what is “not working at the plant… ” then? Starvation? So, do I get this right, you’re comparing virtual enslavement to starvation, and claiming that the former isn’t bad simply because it’s not the later? Or did I miss something there?

        1. Anonymous says:

          No, I’m saying it’s a bit more complex than that. There are abuses, but there is also a very different economic reality there. Poverty on an entirely different scale than what we have here (which is bad enough). The consensus of the people there, who actually live there, is that foxconn is one of the better options for employment, and are actually less “slavery” like than some of the other factory companies. That said, I’d be happier with a regulatory body in china that actually advocates for workers rights, rather than just presenting a happy face to inspectors.

          This rather laughable non-suicide rider is a perfect example of face saving, which is expected there. It won’t do any good, but it gives them something to point at. (Before we condemn that stupidity, lets discuss the insanity of no waiting at the curb of the airport? Every culture has it’s foibles).

          Things are changing radically in china, so it’s not nearly as simple as we think it is, in any dimension. Poverty is declining, but freedoms and government corruption are still big issues.

  4. What’s the penalty for breaking this rule?

    1. Anonymous says:

      Your family gets less/zero recompense.

  5. Steve Hoefer says:

    I’m a huge proponent of knowing where and how the stuff we use is made, as well as taking into consdideration what happens to it after we throw it away.

    But the Foxconn suicide thing is blown out of proportion because it’s fun to hate on Apple, but most commentors here have never visited China much less lived there, and the cultural misunderstanding, distortion, and hyperbole on this single issue is huge.

    The average suicide rate in China is 13.9 people per 100,000 per year. Since Foxconn employs 1 million people it would average] 185 suicides in the company in 16 months, much higher than the 14. ( 13.9 / 12 months = 1.158 suicides per 100K per month. 1.158 * 16 months = 18.528 suicides per 100K. 18.528 * 10 = 185 suicides per 1 million persons per 16 months.)

    Yes, those are grizzly facts, but there is a lot more going on than working conditions. China has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. There is much more going on in these people’s lives (And deaths) culturally than manufacturing electronics for export..

    1. People always try to pull those kinds of numbers out to explain this away but the problem is that you numbers are wrong. You’re comparing apples to oranges.

      First off, you’re only hearing about the people that commit suicide on the job site. Granted, these employees usually spend something like 24/7/365 on the job site but that says nothing about the ones that quit or are fired first. People on the edge are far more likely to see drops in productivity or odd behavior. Both of these are things that are likely to get someone fired, especially in a high efficiency environment like this. The only ones that probably won’t be fired before they get to the point of suicide are the rare ones that can manage to hide their mental issues successfully.

      Secondly, the entire corporate HR hiring process is, explicitly, designed to weed out people that have pre-existing issues before they’re even hired. On the other hand, the average suicide rate you listed for China includes the ENTIRE national population. This includes many groups that are both highly susceptible to suicide and almost completely excluded from working in a Foxconn plant ( ex. teenagers, the elderly, the unemployed, etc.).

      A far, far, better comparison might be between Foxconn’s WORKPLACE suicide rate vs. another major corporate employer from the West. Or, at the very least, the total suicide rate for the employees of such a major Western employer.

  6. Alessio says:

    Talking about iTunes’ eula you should check one of the latest southpark episodes (S15E01), just brilliant

  7. Garrett Mace says:

    Yeah I’ll keep buying stuff Foxconn makes. Just look at the numbers: 14 suicides in 16 months; being generous, that’s 10 suicides per year. Foxconn has almost 1,000,000 employees. The suicide rate in the USA is about 110 per 1,000,000 per year. The suicide rate in China is about 60 per 1,000,000 per year. So not only is Foxconn’s suicide rate way less than the USA’s rate, it’s also six times less than the rest of their own country. Here’s another thought: do you think the suicide rate among Wal-Mart employees is higher or lower than the rest of the USA population? Even if the suicide rate is half the average, that means Wal-Mart’s suicide rate is 5 times worse than Foxconn’s.

    But you know how these stories go…if it bleeds, it leads…if it’s Apple, it leads…this story has both so of course it gets disproportionate attention.

    1. Anonymous says:

      a good follow up question would be at what point – suicide % rate would you stop buying stuff foxconn makes?

      1. Garrett Mace says:

        I’d be way less enthusiastic buying stuff from a company that treated employees so badly the rate was twice normal. It would depend on how much I needed a particular product. Maybe a graph of suicides versus how much I need the product? A bit macabre but the formula probably exists in my mind already.

        Good point about the contract part of it (the actual news story you were putting across). Cutting benefits for relatives is pretty bad…and Foxconn is obviously doing it to try to reduce bad press (which they are dealing with regardless of the comparative suicide rates).

  8. Despite all the hype to the contrary, suicide rates among foxconn workers are substantially lower than the Chinese national average. The Institute for Analytic Journalism issued quite the statistical smackdown on the topic. It is discussed here – http://www.zdnet.com/blog/foremski/media-gets-its-facts-wrong-working-at-foxconn-significantly-cuts-suicide-risk/1356

    1. Anonymous says:

      the rate will be debated, employed vs not-employed, etc. the thing that caught my attention was the anti-suicide contract they need to now sign. if it’s lower, why put up nets and force people to sign contracts?

      1. could it be because of the public relations fiasco caused by the previous suicides?

        1. Paul Norton says:

          Sure. Or maybe, conditions there are so bad, that some, who would rather take their own lives than continue, are coerced into continuing for just one more 12+ hour shift. (For the good of their family, etc.) I guess though, that’s sort of the same thing… avoiding the publicity the suicides seem to bring.

  9. I have to ask (not for the first time) what this sort of posting has to do with what MAKE is actually about? I’m all for pontificating about the sociopolitical quandaries of the electronics industry (heaven knows I do it myself!), but the MAKE blog seems to me like the wrong platform for that. Not trying to be a troll, just offering feedback.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @bradley – we cover how things are made, we cover ipods, ipads, gadgets, we cover makers who have their products made in china. we cover people (like myself) who order a lot of goods from china, it’s completely relevant and a topic we’ll continue to explore.

      i think what *makers* think here is far more interesting than the random crappy comments on most tech sites.

      1. I guess my understanding of MAKE’s topic of interest was wrong. My understanding is that the idea of MAKE was to cater to people who made things themselves, as pretty much everybody everywhere buys lots of things made in China. Certainly no argument on your second point, this is a good group of reader from whom to extract interesting comments.

        1. Anonymous says:

          @bradley – thanks — the people who “make things themselves” get the parts from “somewhere” right? a good example is mitch altman, inventor of the tv-g-gone and founder of the noisebridge hacker space. he goes around the world teaching electronics, but he also visits the factory in china where things he sells for other to make are made. to your point, “pretty much everybody everywhere buys lots of things made in china” – that’s *exactly* why we as makers can do more than just the average person who just buys stuff. i’m currently learning chinese so i can go and visit later this year and actually talk/meet many of the people i only email with.

          that’s what i think makers can do, that’s why i think it’s good that this community talks about it.

          besides, we have the best commenters online, it’s a pleasure to discuss things, even difficult topics here :)

          1. I can see where you’re coming from on this. I guess I’d just hate to see MAKE try to turn into either a platform to make sociopolitical points (BoingBoing) or a platform for general tech industry coverage (too many to mention) don’t get me wrong, I read all the aforementioned, but I feel like MAKE is at its best talking to/for/with the garage tinkers and sticking to practical matters. But then, you’re on the editorial board and I’m not ;)

          2. Anonymous says:

            posts like mine are less than 1% of the posts here so i think the MAKE site is not a sociopolitical place. i really want our community to discuss it and show the rest of the web how good a discussion can be with smart, reasonable people. stuff is being made elsewhere, by people – this is interesting.

  10. AndrewS says:

    whats the point? commit suicide and you die
    i wouldn’t worry about committing you or hospitals, they dont just lock you away because your employer doesn’t like you, and if they do its not the companies you should be worrying about.
    just close the factories and phil can use them as a hackerspace. al ready equipped with stuff too!!

  11. Jacob Feutz says:

    What are my options? Do I just not using anything with an IC in it or are there manufacturers that are more ethical?

  12. Anonymous says:

    Could a list be assembled of products known to be made at Foxconn? Maybe it would be easier to make a list of products not made at Foxconn, -sigh-. I know we’re not going to start to boycott all/any Apple products, but it would be handy to know if there exists a product that has a good deal less blood on it.
    (just attended this amazing one-man show (normally i really don’t like one-man shows but this was really good), so if you get a chance: The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.)

    1. Anonymous says:

      Answering my own question – or rather BoingBoing is in the process of doing so. From Wikipedia: well known companies using Foxconn:
      Apple Inc. (United States), Acer Inc. (Taiwan), Amazon.com (United States), Asus (Taiwan), Intel (United States), Cisco (United States), Hewlett-Packard (United States), Dell (United States), Nintendo (Japan), Nokia (Finland), Microsoft (United States), Sony (Japan), Sony Ericsson (Japan/Sweden), Samsung (Korea), Vizio (United States) [incomplete list]

      right… so no more Sony [eye-roll]

      1. Anonymous says:

        kindle

        1. Anonymous says:

          …ohh yeah… -that-

    2. Paul Norton says:

      Excellent show. Makes you think, and Mike really seems to be keeping the issue in the public eye as much as possible.

      Working conditions there are deplorable, and there is no easy answer.

  13. Ryan LaBarge says:

    If you look at the WHO’s statistics for the Chinese sucidide rate, you will see that for males it is 13 (per 100,000) and females is 14.8.

    Now, I’m not saying that it is a good thing these people killed themselves, but it is pretty close to the national average for that country.

    There are many worse places these workers could be working I’m sure. I am 110% behind them getting quality of life increases and better working conditions, but don’t make it out to be a pandemic.