Foxconn chairman compares his workforce to 'animals'

In an ill-worded statement, the chairman of Foxconn's parent company compared his workforce to 'animals' and sought management advice from the director of Taipei Zoo.

"Hon Hai has a workforce of over one million and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache," said Terry Gou, chairman of Taiwan's Hon Hai, the parent company of Foxconn.

This was his statement at the end of year party, and considering recent events in Foxconn; Gou picked a regrettable choice of words.

Unfortunately, what could just be poor wording is made much worse by the fact that he also suggested he wanted to learn management techniques from Chin Shin-Chien, director of Tapei Zoo.

To make matters worse, he invited Chin to speak and asked his general managers to listen to his advice, as well as inviting him to take part in his company's annual review.

Gou and his general managers apparently listened carefully as Chin provided advice as to how to manage different types of animals, and asked Chin to put himself in the position of Hon Hai's chairman. It seems, unfortunately, there's a bit more than just jest to this analogy.

Foxconn has been under scrutiny for the past two years after a series of suicides. Human rights organisations have criticised the company for their poor work practices, employee safety and alleged management negligence.

Just last week, 300 Foxconn workers threatened to commit suicide in Foxconn's Wuhan plant over wages and working conditions, and were eventually coaxed down by the mayor of Wuhan after two days.

The incident has continued to raise awareness over conditions at Foxconn. It has also forced companies that source their parts from the Chinese factories to come under criticism themselves, with big names like Apple and Microsoft being singled out.

Though, as TechCrunch notes, a lot may be "lost in translation" here. This rather unfortunate statement will not do much to quell concerns about Foxconn. Nor, I think, will they be very comforting for workers at the factories.

A vice-president for Hon Hai provided a much more comfortable explanation of their management issues. He stated: "It's a tough job to manage a workforce of over one million, young people's hearts in China are hard to get hold of."