Back in September, Bloomberg Businessweek did a story about the success of the company, but hyped the fact that stressed workers have committed suicide. As noted, there are major problems with that story.
It says there’s great hand wringing because 11 employees have killed themselves. A minute of research shows the annual suicide rate in China is 13 per 100,000 men and 14.8 per 100,000 women. The company has more than 900,000 employees. If the suicide rate was higher than the national average, it would be worth playing up. But to justify that focus, there will have to be well more than 120 suicides at Foxconn by year end. There was a similar reporting frenzy in Europe this year because of a number of suicides at France Telecom. Turns out the suicide rate there was way below the national average, too. So, wouldn’t it make more sense to look at professions where stressed workers take their lives and exceed the national average than to hype the deaths (that are way below the norm) in these companies?
And the NPR and Daily Mail stories played up how the workers hours caused all the stress, but as the Bloomberg Businessweek story buried:
The Longhua workers interviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek objected to various aspects of how they are treated but not in terms starkly different from the complaints many people have about their jobs. More than two dozen Foxconn employees were interviewed; none showed signs of being afraid to speak freely to a reporter. Those interviewed on the job did so without a supervisor present. Other discussions took place in Internet cafés, staff dormitories, and in the company canteen. Most seem keenly aware of their choices. They work at Foxconn because they want to make money as quickly as possible. Some want cash to buy the things they make. Others want to become entrepreneurs. None of the workers was upset about having to work overtime. To the contrary, the availability of overtime hours was a big attraction.
We tend to view the world through an American perspective, but this is just wrong. The suicide rate for Foxconn workers significantly lower than that of the general Chinese population. The workers are paid much higher than the typical Chinese worker, and for all the cultural quirks that make conditions at Foxconn look extreme to American eyes, the company’s workers are living what we used to call “the American dream.” They work hard to make more money to better their lives.
So this is how a misleading story festers. A news organization does a bad job in September. Other news organizations read the story months later and repeat the same bad job, broadening the audience, but not adding any context. Then individuals read the story and rail against something that is improving conditions for people in poorer countries.
Yes, wages went up for Foxconn workers as a result of the outcry. But the end result of this will be that the typical Chinese worker will resent the Foxconn worker like the typical American worker resented higher paid unionized auto workers. And long term, we know what happened to American auto workers who were resented and undermined because of misleading talking points.