Media gets its facts wrong - working at Foxconn significantly cuts suicide risk

Media gets its facts wrong - working at Foxconn significantly cuts suicide risk

Summary: Journalists reporting an epedemic of suicides at the electronics manufacturer Foxconn have badly misrepresented the facts...

TOPICS: CXO, IT Employment

Patrick Mattimore, a fellow at the Institute for Analytic Journalism, recently published the following article on China's People's Daily Online, headlined: Media badly misplaying Foxconn suicides.

Taiwanese-owned Foxconn has had seven suicides this year. 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.

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.

I checked his figures. World Health Organization suicide figures for China (1999) are 13 males and 14.8 females per 100,000 people.

Elderly (65+ years) suicide rates can be as much as 50% higher than youth (18 to 24 years), which means Foxconn's suicide rate, with its younger workforce, should be significantly below the national average.

Let's estimate an average of 10 suicides per 100,000 at Foxconn. Just the Shenzhen Foxconn plant alone, with its 330,000 employees, would be expected to have about 33 suicides this year, or 14 so far.

Foxconn has had just 10 suicides this year, and that's across its entire workforce.

Working at Foxconn dramatically reduces people's risk of suicide!

Mr Mattimore is right, the media is misrepresenting the facts. He writes:

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.

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.

Topics: CXO, IT Employment

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  • RE: Media gets its facts wrong - working at Foxconn significantly cuts suicide risk

    Perhaps the suicide rate is not above normal but the working conditions certainly raise eyebrows.
    • Because, of course, we all know

      that hellish working conditions actually increase happiness and well-being, resulting in fewer suicides.
      • RE: Media gets its facts wrong - working at Foxconn significantly cuts suicide risk

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    • RE: Media gets its facts wrong - working at Foxconn significantly cuts suic

      @bhaydama Been in a foxconn plant recently? Or any large technology manufacturing facility? The pay is low compared to American standards but the working conditions are fine.
      • RE: Media gets its facts wrong - working at Foxconn significantly cuts suicide risk

        Agreed. I travel to China often and the factories are clean and well maintained.
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  • Or Apple tells them what to say?

    They sure where quick to jump on Ellen Degeneres and tell her what to say after her iPhone spoof, maybe Mr. Mattimore received a call from Apple received some nice incentive$ from Apple for the spin?
    John Zern
    • Yes that must be it

      @John Zern
      A little biased are we?
      confirmation bias ? the tendency to accept without question the accuracy of evidence that agrees with (confirms) one's preconceptions, and to question the accuracy of evidence that contradicts (disconfirms) one's preconceptions.
    • In this case I must agree with you. The article compares apples to oranges.

      @John Zern <br><br>Foxconn has a serious case of work place suicide. I wonder how may of their employees have committed suicide at home or by jumping from bridges without much media fanfare.<br><br>I suspect that many, many more iPhone Assembly line workers more have committed or are committing suicide privately.
      OS Reload
      • That may or may not be the case

        @OS Reload

        But to engage in such speculation based upon little or no information or your personal hunch is reckless, to say the least, and only feeds the already atrocious media coverage of this very serious problem. As commented elsewhere, that individuals here are using these tragedies to push their personal agenda for or against any particular company is a new low for ZDNET.
      • The real low for ZDNET is having paid bloggers to push corporate agendas

        @oncall<br><br>I guess we both know who they are.<br><br>However, Tom Foremski is not one of them. Sure, this article is guilty of a serious oversight but I don't think the author did it intentionally to push an agenda. In fact, and despite that oversight, this article's quality is way above the ZDNET average.
        OS Reload
      • I agree

        @OS Reload

        I think Tom here has been pretty fair. What disturbs me is so many articles trying to make it an "Apple the company" problem. Really the problem is us, and by us I mean the western consumers and their ever increasing demand for cheap stuff, and I include the Chinese people and government who are unwilling to enforce their own labor laws. It's a serious topic that deserves serious attention even without having to throw employee suicides into the equation.

        But putting all that aside, we really don't know what the root cause is. It's easy to assume it's the most obvious thing like labor practices. But it could just as easily be related to factors we are unaware of like the local economy or local housing prices, political activity, etc. Or it could just be we are being faked out because Foxconn, because of its massive size, only "seems" to be having a spike in suicides when in reality they may be having no more or less suicides than any other company with 800k employees.
    • Apple?

      @John Zern <br><br>Apple?<br><br>Foxconn builds for Microsoft, Amazon, Dell, HP, Motorola, Sony, LG, Vizio, and a host of others.<br><br>Among other things they build the Xbox, Wii, Playstation and Kindle.
    • RE: Media gets its facts wrong - working at Foxconn significantly cuts suicide risk

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  • You are comparing work place suicide with overall suicide rates.

    You are comparing Apples to Oranges, there's not much value in this analysis.
    OS Reload
    • RE: Media gets its facts wrong - working at Foxconn significantly cuts suicide risk

      @OS Reload <br><br>How is that? They do live in China don't they? What makes you so sure that it's working at Foxconn alone that makes a person off themself?
      • How do Foxcomm's work place suicide numbers compare to other companies


        Please note that I mean <b>Work Place</b> numbers.

        Very few people choose their work place to commit suicide, normally they choose to do it elsewhere. When that happens something really bad must be happening at work.
        OS Reload
      • xx

        @OS reload They commit suicide in the work place, because that's where they live as well, in the company dorm.
      • RE: Media gets its facts wrong - working at Foxconn significantly cuts suicide risk


        You've just proved his point: You can't compare Foxconn to the overall rates. Foxconn's rate may be below the national average, but how does it compare to other manufacturing companies? I highly doubt the vast majority of Chinese work in comparable electronics manufacturing facilities, so there is most likely another factor in the national suicide rate that is not accounted for.