Karoshi: Foxconn & Suicide Nets

The following opinion piece is based on Nightline's exposé on Foxconn's mass suicide scandal in Shenzhen, China in the current decade. The following report calls into question the measures taken by the industrial group after the first string of suicides. Furthermore, the issue ignites a debate of whether the work environment that these young, Chinese workers are subjected to, is a violation of basic human rights. 

The Apple segment above had me revisiting Jim Keady's 2000 Nike documentary: "Behind the Swoosh", trying to compare what I saw at this factory in China with how the Indonesian laborers were treated. Fortunately, Apple, or in this case, Foxcon, doesn’t seem to be an entirely heartless employer. Despite the work schedule being pretty hectic, and those dorms leaving much to be desired, these workers seem to be at a slightly better place than the Nike factory workers. It is still very hard to see how much exploitation is going on, and I am not at all surprised that there have been so many cases of suicide in these factories.

Interestingly, I had been following articles and news stories about suicides in this complex, and unless memory fails me, there have been similar cases in Japan as well (the latter becoming so common that the incident now has its own name--Karoshi) (International Labour Office, 2013). When I first heard of the plan to set up suicide nets at these factories, some years ago, I remember thinking that this was such a bizarre “solution” to these occurrences. Referring back to the question of whether or not these nets are a precaution or a simple band-aid, I would have to say that they are a band-aid. Some of these employees may be so worn out that they cannot see any way out of their dull lives. Imagine if you had to work 47 hours on an assembly line like that, in such a monotone and robotic rhythm, hearing the same command over and over, and then going out for your break, during which the only sustenance you can purchase is overpriced (and likely to taste…not quite like mom’s food), to then have to get back to your room where your other 6 just as miserable roommates are awaiting for you. Imagine viewing such a bleak panorama of life? That’s pretty much what I would describe slavery to be like. However, let’s give credit to the counselor that was interviewed, she did bring up some valid points: most of the workers at this factory are fairly young, having just left their families in the countryside to try to make a living for themselves. They are young and inexperienced, and social interactions aren’t particularly easy, so making friends is particularly difficult, so combine the solitude with their workforce frustrations and exhaustion and you have a fairly broken individual with very low expectations of life.

As one of the girls interviewed said, sure it may not be the company’s fault that these suicides took place, but more could have been done to avoid them. For example, why weren’t their wages raised before? (Though now that they’ve doubled them, they’re still not enough!) Surely, they could make food more affordable for the people responsible for the company’s earnings. The question is, then, why haven’t they?

I have to admit I was very disturbed when I learned that a group of workers threatened to jump off the roof of the building if their work demands were not met. I found it just as weird, the supervisor’s assurance that it was all just negotiation, as if it were such a casual thing. Once again, recall that collectivistic cultures give more importance to the opinions of those at the subordinate level (Matsumoto & Juang, 2013), meaning that someone at a higher position in a company will usually make sure that many, if not all, of the employees are content with the decisions made before shaking on a deal. I didn’t see this as a typical collectivistic negotiation, then again it was entirely atypical, there were 150 people who were going to jump off the roof of this place. I cannot begin to imagine how things actually are inside the factory, but if they still need to keep those nets up, then that tells me they are not doing enough to help their employees. 


Case Study: Karoshi: Death from overwork. (2013, April 23). Retrieved from http://www.ilo.org/safework/info/publications/WCMS_211571/lang--en/index.htm

Matsumoto, D., & Juang, L. (2013). Ch. 15, Culture and Organizations. Culture and Psychology (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

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