In 2010, the industrial complex that produces Apples’ iPhone, based in Shenzhen, China, was plagued with 11 suicides. Interestingly enough, all of these suicides took place at the factory, enacted by employees jumping from dormitory windows to their deaths.
Foxconns’ founder, 59-year-old Terry Gou, has begun taking steps to change the work environment, and alleviate what is arguably a stressful environment. One of the first steps taken for deterrence of the suicidal behavior is the installation of 3 million square meters of netting, ostensibly to catch any would be jumpers. Foxconns’ complex houses over 300, 000 employees who eat, sleep and work there.
Another of the other initiatives that have been taken is the creation of a whole new department to deal with the obvious psychological morass that has befallen Foxconn. This department takes the form of a 24-hour counseling center, manned by specially trained workers. This was followed by a huge 50 percent increase in wages. Then, the workers were allegedly forced to sign written promises
that they would not commit suicide.
Terry Gou then went on to hire the public relations firm of Burson-Marstellar. The main reason behind this move stems from a tremendous amount of unwanted scrutiny from the Chinese government, academics, customers, labor activist, not to mention reporters. Certainly this created a potential public relations nightmare. Companies like Apple, IBM and Microsoft, to name but a few of Foxconns’ partners, like to have customers think of them as friendly family and business oriented companies. Suicide is not a great or friendly image.
It is evident that Gou wants change in his company, or he might have done nothing. Still one has to wonder whether his workers believe he is sincere. After all his workers make about $184 a month, Gou is worth $5.9 billion.
Gou claims, ”… I am not interested in knowing how much I have. I don't care. I am working not for money at this moment, I am working for society, I am working for my employees."
Yet, this is clearly rebutted when reading his own biography, which is filled with lovely sentiments, including, "work itself is a type of joy," "a harsh environment is a good thing," "hungry people have especially clear minds," and "an army of one thousand is easy to get, one general is tough to find."