Media blows it: Foxconn employees face significantly lower suicide risk

invisibleSHIELD case for iPad“One newspaper has called the recent suicides at the electronics company Foxconn an epidemic. Another newspaper reports that Foxconn is experiencing a ‘spate of suicides.’ Unfortunately, this is an instance of media hysteria and disregard for statistical facts which may have real world negative consequences,” Patrick Mattimore reports for People’s Daily Online.

“Taiwanese-owned Foxconn has had seven suicides this year,” Mattimore reports. “That sounds like a lot, but the firm has an estimated 800,000 workers, more than 300,000 of them at a single plant in Shenzhen.”

Mattimore reports, “Although exact figures are hard to come by, even the most conservative estimate for China’s suicide rate is 14 per 100,000 per year (World Health Organization). In other words, Foxconn’s suicide epidemic is actually lower than China’s national average of suicides.”

“If the only upshot of these stories was heightened attention to workplace issues, such as improving workers’ conditions, then the stories would not be troubling. The problem is that people are fired and the stories become political ammunition for various groups,” Mattimore writes. “Another problem is that responsible businesses like Foxconn often take benevolent, but misguided actions to try and ‘solve’ their problem… Another troubling facet of misleading the public with the Foxconn suicide story is that there is a very real desire to scapegoat Foxconn. That tendency is understandable because it is human nature to want to shift the blame for the act of suicide to someone other than the perpetrator. However, that shift should not be mistaken for reasonably reading the situation.”

“The larger problem stems from the fact that most journalists have not been taught to critically examine statistics. They follow the herd which often means that they report numbers without providing readers a context for making sense of those numbers,” Mattimore writes. “Reporters often write stories with statistics that are incomplete, misleading, or just plain wrong. Hopefully, the public will wake up to the fact that there is nothing wrong at Foxconn and demand that newspapers act more responsibly and begin supplying some context when they decide to instigate their next corporate suicide watch.”

Full article – highly recommended – here.

[Attribution: ZDNet. Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “jax44” for the heads up.]


  1. read the pithy Dan Lyons / FSJ regurg of this media reverberation. Does any other organization with that number of employees have ANY associated onsite suicides? Does Wal Mart hang nets around their buildings? There’s suicide and then there’s JUMPERS. Foxconn should be ashamed of creating a hotbox environment that drives people mad enough to jump. That is all there is to say. Not to compare apples to oranges by comparing to WHO international suicide rates or whatever. Pfff.

  2. “scapegoat Foxconn…”? I wish the stories I saw mentioned FoxConn anywhere in the headline or first paragraph. The ones I see always seem to mention Apple or the iPad or iPhone in the lead and perhaps mention Foxconn by name (or the fact that they manufacture may items for Dell, HP, etc.) as the final “clarifying info” paragraph.

  3. Actually it is not as simple as comparing the seizure risk in the factory population to the overall population of China. Suicides can vary by factors such as age, gender, family history, etc. If the factory population differs from the Chinese general population for any of these risk factors then the suicide rate comparisons may not be valid. One must understand the risk factors for suicide and the distribution of these factors for the factory population and the Chinese general population. It might be more helpful to compare the suicide rate in the Foxconn factory to another factory with workers of similar age, gender ratio etc.

  4. What media, there hasn’t been a journalist in years in the main stream media that does boo as far as fact checking..

    its like the oil spill, lets report the worst case scenario on the front page, who gives d*amn if its accurate or even close, or that even the worst case scenario is a drop in the proverbial bucket in comparison to the gulf as a whole.

  5. @dan

    Your reading comprehension sucks.

    What I take away from this is, the media is sensationalizing these Foxconn deaths and though tragic they may be, pales in comparison the number of American teens who die everyday from abusing their parents’ prescriptions drugs.

    Both are preventable!

    There is no “hotbox” vortex of death at Foxconn but lately the media is suddenly focused on the company that does a lot of business with Apple.

    To illustrate my point, have you ever noticed that when you buy a new and unique car, suddenly they’re everywhere?

    I remember when the suicide rate in the Marines became an issue and as Command began to focus on it more, it only increased the rate, not diminished it, especially over the holidays.

    I’m not suggesting the Foxconn employees are copy cats, but that is probably how many of them view the final solution to their personal problems. It will change, and hopefully their deaths will be the catalyst for change and not be driven from the minds of the workers.

    No unions in the People’s Republic of China!

  6. Not to be overlooked is the tendency of large Chinese companies to build dorms for their younger workers. The workers are at the employers’ facilities all the time. Not meaningful to discuss where the suicide took place. The fact that the rate is below average for the larger demographic is a good thing. The fact that it’s not zero is sad, but meaningless. There are a certain number of suicides in every demographic slice. The sensation came from the tie-in to Apple. Otherwise the story wouldn’t have gotten any ink anywhere outside of a WHO statistical analysis.

    Still, it’s always sad when young people see this as the only way out of what is just life happening.

  7. Yes, I’m sure that the conditions for workers at Foxconn are rosy – any American would be thrilled to work there (extreme sarcasm). The fact is that, for the sake of cheaper products for us, workers in China and other parts of the globe work for wages and in conditions that would cause a great outcry if they happened here in America. Though some would argue that it is better than the absolute poverty that many in these countries live, the reality is that these companies are near-slavery sweatshops. Instead of heading towards capitalism, China has high-tailed it back to a neo-fuedalism.

    When will we learn that unless everyone is lifted up by the benefits of the profit generated by the free market, prosperity is not sustainable for any of us. If only a relative few reap the benefits, than ultimately the system has to implode or explode at some point. Not all profit is “good” – it depends on the impact that the gaining of it has on others. Profits from slavery or other abuses of people are NOT “good.” We need a new and refreshed vision of capitalism and the free market – that includes a truly sustainable vision of growth that includes the lifting up of all peoples. It may be a long-term vision, but it is about time that we started thinking long-term and not just at how to get what we want now, with no thought of the future or its impact on other people (for example, our children – who will inherit this world from us).

    Sorry, my rant for the day.

  8. No one would care about this story if not for the Apple connection. The underlying narrative is that there’s a correlation between the number of suicides and the growth of Apple. The more iDevices Apple sells, the more that the poor Chinese laborers who manufacture them feel compelled to end their lives amid unsustainable stress.

    The answer, of course, is to buy smartphones and (soon) tablets that run the open and free Google Android OS, which are manufactured by rich Anglo angels in heaven and shipped to earth by way of cloud-rail.

  9. “Reporters often write stories with statistics that are incomplete, misleading, or just plain wrong.”

    Mark Twain had it right about statistics.

  10. Did you miss this part: “If the only upshot of these stories was heightened attention to workplace issues, such as improving workers’ conditions, then the stories would not be troubling.”

    The author is pointing out that some media writers are spinning the story to make it sound like there are a lot more suicides at Foxconn than elsewhere in China, when the statistics don’t support that.

  11. My peeve around this:

    It is disgusting that “freedom of expression” has become, in some circles, “the right to lie”, deceive, mislead. And systematically by media corporations, as a matter of policy, for profit – sensation sells.

    The fraud laws need to be tightened on this – at a minimum, a misleading/false story must be corrected with the same coverage as the original, with an additional deterrence penalty.

    Like, how can decisions be made if people have incorrect information? And recklessness, stupidity, deadlines is not an excuse.

  12. @solafide

    I agree that much journalism today is given to hyperbole, misdirection, and misrepresentation – that main point of the article I agree with. It would have been better if I had mentioned this.

    I am just grieved every time I read about working conditions in many China companies – and therefore gave way to a “rant” (although I hope it was a thoughtful one).

    Thanks for balancing my comments toward the article itself.

    By the way – interesting – the MDN Magic Word to post my original response was “heavy” and for this one is “our.” Strangely appropriate for the subject at hand.

  13. Foxconn is giving employees a 20% raise. I wonder….

    In college, Johns Hopkins U, if your roommate committed suicide, you were given a 4.0 for that semester. This of course, created an INCENTIVE to off your roommate and make it look like a suicide!

    In China right now, there’s a huge strike at Honda’s transmission plant, where the workers want a raise. This is very unusual in that the news of the strike is actually being reported. Generally the media, aka the mouthpiece of the government, is pro-business and anti-worker, so this kind of news is suppressed.

    I think raising wages 20% will give the Chinese worker an odd incentive. Throw a few colleagues off the roof, and management will give you all a raise, for fear of the bad publicity.

    I’m not saying that that is what is happening, but this is surely an odd incentive.

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