Foxconn buildings covered in suicide nets, though most workers are just sleepy and bored

Foxconn buildings covered in suicide nets, though most workers are just sleepy and bored

Nightline is going to be airing their big exposé on Foxconn tomorrow night, but the write-up of their visit to Foxconn is now available. Although Nightline reports that there are nets just about everywhere to catch anyone trying to commit suicide, depression is apparently not that common. The counseling center is sparsely used (most of the workers were simply tired from their 10-to-12-hour shifts), and despite the high profile of the suicides within recent memory, 18 attempts over the last couple of years actually isn't that many considering the Foxconn employs and houses a veritable city of over 230,000 within Shenzhen. A counselor at Foxconn explained why some of the suicides happened.

"There are many reasons. We had many scholars here doing research. Of course some (suicide) has to do with the management. But they had more to do with the new generation of migrant workers from the rural areas, their state of mind and how they cope with society. Also it's hard to make friends here."

Nightline also got to ask about Apple's independent audit of working conditions. The New Zealand firm in charge of it claims many of the responses are based on what the boss would want to hear, but since the sample size is so huge, and all of the surveying is done anonymously and online, there are many legitimate grievances which are being identified. As for factory inspections, the president of the Fair Labor Association, Auret van Heerden, says it's hard to get  feel for what actual day-to-day conditions are like.

"I expect them to put on a show for us. That's normal with every factory you go to, even if it's just the time that it takes you to get from the gate to the factory floor, there's always fifteen or twenty minutes of protocol to get in there. The special equipment comes out, they put the ear plugs in, they put the masks on, and they can transform a factory in twenty minutes, so we expect that."

The saddest part of the whole piece is that the factory workers rarely, if ever, get to use the final products that they're all helping to build - nevermind own one. Considering one of the tenents of Ford's original assembly line was that they price their cars so that everyone who worked on the line could afford one, it's sad to see the biggest electronics factories in the world today don't follow in that spirit.

This tour is a particularly big deal because Apple has traditionally never allowed press inside the factories where iPhone, iPads, and other Apple products are assembled, but an ongoing rash of bad press related to Foxconn has prompted  them to open up the doors, at least a little bit. Apple has got to be applauded for the unprecedented amount of effort they're putting into improving working conditions throughout their entire supply chain. One can only hope that other manufacturers start doing the same before the world starts to learn that it's not only iPhone factories that are harsh working environments.

Source: ABC

Simon Sage

Editor-at-very-large at Mobile Nations, gamer, giant.

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There are 40 comments. Add yours.

Jon K. says:

I just really dont get the huge fuss over this issue all of the sudden. The suicide rate at Foxconn as been proven with data to be LESS than the national average. It has been proven with data that the workers make ABOVE AVERAGE salaries in comparison to the national average.
We can look at it all day from here in the US and say it's not fair, but it's not the same way of life no matter you do. A few hundred dollars to them is a ton of money while here is sounds like making nothing. Different economy and different lifestyle.
There are also plenty of US workers who work 10-12 hour shifts. It is not ALL that uncommon. We like to sit here and think of our cushy 9-5 job, but not even all Americans have that. There are still factory workers, police, doctors, etc who work long shift; sometimes even over 12 hours at a time. It is just not all that uncommon.
Do they need to improve the safety conditions for their workers? Such as proper protective equipment, sure. But who doesn't? Cutting corners happens EVERYWHERE. You wouldn't see asbestos lawsuits all over in the US if it didn't happen here as well. It has always been the most production for the least amount of cost, even at workers' expenses sometimes.
I just hate how the media only focuses on Foxconn, and even worse at Apple who has no control over what a 100% separate company does. Besides the fact that Foxconn makes products for MANY other companies who aren't under the microscope for some reason like Apple is being placed

andrewshah says:

You couldn't have said it better.

iPhoneDon797 says:

I have to completely agree too. I work long hours (12-14 hours) in a factory myself and more physically demanding than putting iPhone or iPad components together. If the workers there are paid properly to the work they do and safety concerns are addressed then this shouldn't be an issue. Im sure the workers making our fancy GAP clothing in China would live to have a job at Foxconn. Most of us Americans are used to nice cushy jobs. Like you what was said, Apple under the public microscope and everything they do is criticized and put up on the news and tech blogs. It's like if President Obama passed gas in front of more than 3 people, it's front page news.... It's ridiculous....

stewm says:

Can't agree more. Well said!

Pimp Lucious says:

Luckily Nike didn't have an army of fitness apparel adorning defenders back when they were in the same boat.

stewm says:

I bet that if most overseas manufacturing locations for companies were inspected the conditions are still far worse than Apple's contractors. Nike was always just the tip of the iceberg and there are many other companies that have horrendous conditions that make FoxConn look like a wonderful place.

OrionAntares#CB says:

Well yea. You can't have true sweatshop conditions when building electronics, you'd have too many electronics shipping out defective.

cellgeek82 says:

I work at a prison and a regular day is 8 hrs. If I work overtime (which is sometimes mandatory) it's a 16 hr work day. People whining about 10-12 hr work days have no idea that it really isn't that hard. It just takes away from fun time. I'm sure our ancestors worked a lot more since living off the land was REAL work. People, we have it easy!
I agree with you Jon, long hours aren't uncommon.

pilotboy5can says:

This is why Apple is a terrible company. They treat there employees like crap, antheses are so cheap that they won't even let each employee have a device. If it wasn't for the Foxconn employees, Apple wouldn't even be here. They ahould treat them better. I can't wait until the show premiers tomorrow night. Less people will buy Apple products.

tiredofthewhining says:

Slave labor, right? Like those people have no employment choice? And btw, we would still have Apple products without Foxconn, they would just be built somewhere else, and you would be complaining about that other company's labor practices as well. Oh, and you would also complain about the price of the product. Get over it. I'm so tired of people feeling entitled to wealth without earning it. I know so many people that have devices like the ones produced at Apple that are receiving government assistance. So, in essence, we enable our people to buy this crap that they wouldn't be able to afford by buying their groceries for them and paying their rent. Yet you want to rant because some worker can't afford an iPad? Yeesh.

alan says:

Didn't realize Ford leased out spots on their assembly line. I think the word you were looking for was tenets, not tenants.

ricbon says:

no human being should work in a place that has suicide nets

stewm says:

They are not suicide nets. Many places uses these nets, they are designed to stop people from being hit from objects stupidly placed on the edge of balconies like TV's Radios etc.
They are designed to protect the building owner from liability from pedestrians.
These nets will not stop someone dying if they jumped off the top of the building, it will stop them landing on someone innocently walking below. They may reduce the chance of death but they will still suffer major injuries. People don't jump butt down trapeze artist style they jump feet first, their bones will still be broken, their necks may still snap.
I am sure that the 99.9% or whatever the percentage is of people that are not suicidal are thankful that these nets are there to protect them from their crazy coworkers that would rather jump to their death (and probably still would have regardless of whether they worked there or not) rather than they get hurt or killed when Wing Wing lands on top of them from a great height!
Most companies that I worked at had the same nets to protect workers below from falling equipment etc and we didn't have suicides and they were called safety nets.

Ama says:

Being suicidal doesn't mean your crazy. Some people just can't deal with certains things as well as others. I'm not suicidal mysel but I have friends who have depression and am offended on their behalf. I know you probably didn't mean it in that way but sometimes we just have to watch our words :)

cellgeek82 says:

Instead of us blaming Foxxcon may we should blame the Chinese government. Countless times they've proven they don't care about a human life. Much like America and abortion. We freely kill our people. So, who's the tyrant now?

Jon K. says:

Why is this such a hard concept for people to understand? APPLE DOES NOT OWN FOXCONN. It is a 100% separate company Apple CONTRACTS with to assemble products. Apple has 0 control over Foxconn operations and owns no stake in the company.
If you are a fruit vendor in the US is it your corporate responsibility to regulate the working conditions of migrant workers in South America? NO. You can have a corporate CHOICE not to by from them but their separate company operations are none of your business. All you have is a contract with them.
Same situation here. Its a contract, period. No control over what a separate company across the world does. It is their duty to their shareholders that governs, not to a 3rd party company working conditions. If they choose not to do anything they have no legal responsibility to do so, unless they choose to from a moral standpoint. But this is and should not be required.
And I don't hear anyone complaining that Microsoft, Sony, etc should get involved even though Foxconn products Playstations and Xboxes rolls eyes Apple is just the easy target here and people forget Foxconn aseembles products for MANY other huge Us companies. So they just have zero responsibility but Apple should bear all? Makes zero sense

stewm says:

not to mention that Hewlett Packard was using Foxconn years before Apple even did.
Apple is being used as a Whipping Boy because they are more in the public eye that Microsoft when it comes to electronics.

cannedoscar74#IM says:

Apple has ultimate say in issuing the contract to FoxConn or anyone else. This is an issue because in the West more and more consumers are starting to demand that the products they purchase be made by workers who are treated by fair labor standards. Manufacturing and end products have migrated throughout the globe do to fair trade agreements, now Fair Labor Standards are migrating back to the production zones, via those same free trade agreements.
The standard of living won't rise across the globe until consumers demand it. Now consumers are demanding it and Apple has the opportunity to change the way business is done based on the volume of business they do. It won't change end user prices. Apple will still pay what Apple pays for a device from the manufacturer, but Apple can (and I hope will) demand decent wages and working conditions in the contracts. Foxconn will adjust their conditions to get the contract or some other company will get it. China will co-operate too -or Foxxconn will move their factories elsewhere if that's what they need to do to keep their Apple contracts. Apple will do what Apple has made them successful -they'll give the market and consumers what they want.

TheWizz says:

HAHA! By your logic, I could hire somebody to kill one of my enemies and I would be innocent. It's just a contractor! I didn't do it!
Apple is responsible for which suppliers they choose, and their ethics should reflect Apple's ethics, or lackthereof. Period.

chirmer says:

Your logic needs work. Apple would have to hire Foxconn to push employees to suicide for your argument to be correct.

BK says:

The program on ABC is called Nightline, Dateline is a program on NBC.

Pimp Lucious says:

Wow. It's not like it wasn't mentioned in the video clip and the links either.

alan says:

And yet you haven't fixed the error I pointed out earlier today. When you are talking about Ford's assembly line you should have used tenets not tenants. No leasing going on in the assembly line.

Martin says:

Wow, before getting my first Apple device a few months ago, I had always heard about the infamous Apple "fanboy" fanaticism. And since this controversy hit iMore (after it FINALLY hit the mainstream, corporate press), the Apple apologists are out in full force. Amazing.
"Apple has got to be applauded for the unprecedented amount of effort they’re putting into improving working conditions throughout their entire supply chain. "
Ummm, no. Why do you think they're finally putting in "unprecedented" effort?! Answer: Because of the critics and the public attention in the corporate press--it's the critics who ought to be applauded, not the perpetrators. Jeez....

stewm says:

Explain to me your thinking?
First of all, last time I dealt with contracts, if you contract out work to someone it is the contractor that is responsible for the conditions for their employees. Your obligation is to pay the agreed price to the contractor, which Apple does.
In fact, Apple goes further and includes in their contract that certain standards are met concerning staff treatment and working conditions.
Of course, nobody is saying anything about Hewlett Packard, another American company that uses Foxconn to do contract assembly. In fact they were using Foxconn before Apple ever did! I am sure that they don't have the same 'standards' in the assembly plants since Apple has improved the working conditions I am sure that the workers assembling H.P. boxes are still working in worse conditions.
I am sure that the conditions are far better and the incomes far better at Foxconn and other Apple contract manufacturers because they have no shortage of workers and in China they are not dragged off the street by a Chinese Secret Police and forced to work at the Factories and accept the income offered. In fact the reason they have tens of thousands of people trying to get work at the plants is that even, as low as the income is, it is still far higher than they would get at other jobs!
Apple really should be Applauded for a few things, they did listen, they have put pressure on their contract manufacturers, they have tried to address concerns even when the concerns should have been directed to the contract manufacturers.

chirmer says:

It's unprecedented because when information like this comes out, most companies don't really do anything about it. Apple is acting on it. They're not flawless in the situation, no, but they're also not really responsible. In case you skipped reading the comments above you, you must realize by now that Foxconn isn't owned by Apple. They have no say in what they do short of pulling their business from them. They're doing what they can to put pressure on Foxconn to make sure the workers are happy. That's all they can really do.

SteveW928 says:

"Ummm, no. Why do you think they’re finally putting in “unprecedented” effort?!"
Do you actually think Apple completely changed everything in the last couple weeks since this all blew up in the press? Seriously?
I'm not saying things don't need to improve in China (not just Foxconn plants), as they do. But, I think as all of this is investigated, we'll find these are some of the better manufacturing jobs on China. In other words, this is a China problem, not an Apple problem (or even tech manufacturing in China problem).
Also, I'll bet if you if you went to an average manufacturing plant in the US, you'd actually find more similarities than you think... such as safety equipment being pulled out and put on for the inspection... long hours, etc. And, outside of the factory, as others have pointed out, long hours are pretty darn normal in the US. I've often put in 10-12 hours plus during my years of work (often also unpaid for the extra, as I was salaried).
Then, go back 100 years in the US... the working conditions weren't nearly as good as in China. Go back even 40 years, they may not have been as good in some places. Again, this isn't an excuse to not try and change things, or that China is doing just fine, but to put some perspective on things. The types of cushy labor laws we enjoy in most Western countries today haven't been around all that long.
And, as I've said in so many other posts in these forums and others: Apple can certainly apply some pressure and slowly advance conditions in their plants. What they can't do, is change what needs to change in China from the inside. China, itself, needs to start thinking differently about how human beings are considered. In the 'West' it is easy to forget that most of the rest of the world doesn't have such thinking.

Rob White says:

Had it not been written about & said on the podcast many times that Apple also tools up the factories & makes the machines/robots used in manufacturing you apologists might have a legitimate gripe.
But....
Apple is intricately involved in not only finding & hiring Foxconn, but giving then the money to set up shop with. They basically own Foxconn under that type of arrangement.
I guess it can be argued they paid for the suicide nets. Hey you guys are right... Apple does care.

chirmer says:

Too bad they're not suicide nets, LOL... sheesh. Everyone's a dramatist! They're nets to protect people at ground level from electronics falling from greater heights. Lots of factories have them....

frog says:

If Apple brought the manufacturing back to the US. How much more would it cost? Would consumers be happy to pay for that, I suspect not...

alan says:

If we didn't tax manufacturing so much more companies just might do that and we wouldn't notice any cost difference. But I doubt that will ever happen unless somehow we can rid the country of liberals.

Tassa says:

I don't know why apple steal the name iPad from Proview like that. There are millions name that apple can use, so why use iPad? Very body known that iPad is the brand name of Proview for a long time a go and that inecudld apple.

9thwonder says:

I'm sleepy and bored now. Hmmm? Whatever should i do? Nap, go do something fun, Or hurl myself out of a window?

george says:

WOw, some of you guys are fools and can't think past one move. Stick to checkers. First of all, vast employee suicide indicates conditions that too appealing to employees and I'm not talking about not a/c or long hours. People don't kill themselves, simply, for boredom's sake.
Secondly, "apple" can do plenty about it's subcontracted factory workers. Pay them more money and reduce it's profits!. I'm honest I don't care about anyone but myself. American or foreign. However, don't act like you care about others and then say these workers are treated fair and apple can't do anything about it. Be honest and say you dont' care

Martin Kristensen says:

18 suicides in 1-2 years in a city of 230.000, right? That's probably to be expected in ANY city of that size, ANYWHERE in the world !!! Now, stop whining and start seeing things in the right perspective. The 'whiners' here, only wants to get a swing at Apple... Boo-hooo.. "If you got an issue, here's a tissue". You need to wake up and get a grip. Maybe do something good for someone in YOUR neighbourhood...But hey, that actually means you have to get involved on a personal level, right?..Hmm.. Nah, then it's just easier to bash Apple while you're behind yer screen.. Your whinging/whining is so hypocritical...

3girlsAZ says:

I find it amusing that Americans judge another culture. Of course a developing country will have some disadvantages and it is good to increase pressure to improve conditions. But you also need to ensure that it does hinder people from having jobs.
The comment about counseling is funny from a non US perspective. It is a US cultural phenomenon that people want to see a shrink or counselor all the time instead of tackling the problem.
One could also demand that the conditions in the US need to improve. We are the only western country without minimum vacation. Even in China the condition is a lot better in this regard: 5 working days (from 1 to 9 years seniority), 10 working days (from 10 to 19), 15 working days (from 20 years onwards) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Listofstatutoryminimumemploymentleaveby_country .
Women in the US have to work until the day they give birth and lose their job if they don't return within the time their leave balance allows. If they have a leave balance left. Let's improve the US first before while exporting our achieved rights elsewhere.

Alex says:

at some point we all have to realize that those companies and their products are not worth defending. Its nonsensical to think that electronic equipment is teetering on the edge of a windowsill and that nets are required to catch them. Why not close a window or move electronic equipment to a safe location, that would make more sense. People need to be fiercely loyal to other people, not companies and their products. If the criticism of apple bothers you think that maybe its not the criticism that bothers you as much as the realization that buying those products affects people in a negative way. Also, don't downgrade people's misfortune, you may not work a 12 hour shift for a fraction of your current salary.

cold reality says:

hahaha, suicide nets. Im sorry but that is crazy. I've worked at the same plant for 30 years and it employs thousands. No one has ever tried to leap off the building. America = mass consumer of slave labor products.

Refilo says:

At face value, the numbers are of a level that if it ocruced in the US, Congress would have the management team called toANC, OSHA would marshal its resources to look into working conditions, and Erin Brokovitch would come out of retirement to look into environmental factors behind the deaths.This is a cultural issue that has historically been hidden from global view. If this facility had nothing to do with the iPhone it might not have even made the news. The culture you speak of is the Mao culture not a corporate one; China's version of OSHA is still populated with Party favorites and I would be surprised if Foxconn didn't have party ties as well.I'm sure these ties roll over into recruiting.While money helps, I'm more curious why these suicides take place; only then will we know. But a culture that doesn't promote suicide as an option shows how far HR needs to travel to understand people.