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‘Non-Accidental Injuries’ in China

Why should you care? Because there’s a good chance you use products made by the company or its customers.

Several employees of Foxconn, a multinational electronics manufacturer with numerous facilities in China, have killed themselves, and there are questions associated with the workers’ suicides that have not been publicly asked [at least I have not been able to find them], but should be.

Why should you care? Because there’s a good chance you use products made by the company or its customers.

The questions for Foxconn—which produces electronic equipment used by government broadcasters including streaming media devices—are: Were the workers who killed themselves prone to severe depression or an inability to cope with stress? Does Foxconn exert so much pressure on its employees to produce, that even those who would normally withstand such stress rather kill themselves than continue as a Foxconn worker?

There are critics of Foxconn who say the latter is true. They cite the period from January 2010 through November of that year in which14 Foxconn employees took their own lives (out of 18 who tried). According to press reports, the workers’ favored method for killing themselves was to jump off a Foxconn building. In an effort to place a “Band-Aid” on the problem, the company installed huge nets around the building.

Also according to press reports, Foxconn has since instituted a policy requiring Chengdu factory employees to sign a pledge promising not to commit suicide. Is the fact that Foxconn requires such a pledge an indication it knowingly hires workers who are prone to suicidal depression?

In addition, hires must also agree to allow the company to commit them to a hospital should “abnormal physical or mental problems” be exhibited by the employee.

However, Foxconn was careful to ensure that if a worker does commit suicide, payments to the next of kin will not exceed government set limits, and the families will not raise a fuss. Press reports say those polices have been detailed in a letter to the families of workers. According to the letter, the families of employees who die of “non-accidental injuries” (suicide) must “agree the company has acted properly in accordance with relevant laws and regulations, and will not sue the company, bring excessive demands, take drastic actions that would damage the company’s reputation or cause trouble that would hurt normal operations.”

Apparently Foxconn believes that nets and a policy relieving the company of any responsibility for worker suicides are enough. The company does not seem to be cognizant that if it has to require employees to agree to involuntary commitment—at the bosses’ discretion—to keep them from hurting themselves, something is wrong with the culture at Foxconn. Because Foxconn does not seem to be willing to take real steps to deal with the problem, the client companies, such as Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Toshiba and Vizio have to step forward and cry, “Enough!” If they do not, it will not be surprising if more “non-accidental injuries” occur at Foxconn.