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Examining a possible hand of internal relations and employee communication in 2010 Foxconn suicides

October 11, 2010

Foxconn international holdings Ltd is a multinational subsidiary of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd, a Taiwanese company that is the world’s largest maker of electronic components supplying various world leaders like Apple, Acer, Dell etc.

Between January and May, 2010, thirteen Foxconn employees at Shenzhen, China, the production base attempted suicide, resulting in ten dead and two injured. The deaths drew media attention, raised many questions about the management style and internal relations and employee communication, and aroused the concern about the pressures of factory life and the emotional vulnerability of young employees.

Geoff Crothall, of Hong Kong-based campaign group China Labor Bulletin indicates at Foxconn, there is a quasi-military style of management that seeks to isolate individual workers from managers which conform the authoritarian organizational culture is in the form of structuring and formalizing with a decision-making hierarchy. Based on Hofstede’s dimension of culture, Foxconn seems to be defined as an organization with high power- distance, which most decision-making in Foxconn is centralized at the highest level of the organization. Especially with great majority managers from Taiwan, employees often see themselves as inherently different from each other. Some employees accused the management style of Taiwanese with inhumanly violence is unendurable which might be the cause of suicides. Meanwhile, news reports have been critical, using the word “sweatshop” to describe Foxconn as a workplace where employees are forced to work long hours under poor conditions and with very low pay, the discrimination of mainland Chinese workers by their Taiwanese coworkers, and a lack of working relationships have all been held up as possible causes for the suicides. Statistical analysis also suggests most of employees were in their first job since leaving school, half of them had been there for less than four months, the difficulty of adjusting to a new city and new job for employees in 19-24 age range may have been a factor of suicide. In fact, the motives are diverse and they might happen simultaneously to cause suicide occur.

A Foxconn spokesman, Arthur Huang, wrote in an email: “Foxconn has provided workers with a far better environment and benefits than the manufacturing industry as a whole, yet has long striven to be a leader in corporate social responsibility and continuously pushes for improvement.” They argued that suicides mainly result from personal issues such as relationship trouble or family problems. In company’s position, both CEO of Foxconn, Terry Guo and the chief executive of Apple, Steve Jobs pointed out that during the four hundred and twenty thousand employees in the factory the suicide rate of the company is far below the average rate announced by World Health Organization which is within the normal range.

In response to a series of deaths, Foxconn sharply increased salaries by 20% and offered counseling to its four hundred and twenty thousand employees. The company has set up a helpline for depressed workers, asking employees to sign no-suicide pledges, established rooms with punchbags to help employees vent frustrations and offered 250 USD bonuses to staff who warn managers when colleagues have emotional problems. It has even invited Buddhist monks to conduct religious rites to get rid of misfortune, hoping to dispel staff anxieties. However, Geoff Crothall said Foxconn’s new measures were an attempt to ameliorate the problem and did not address the root of the issue.

In my opinion, since a cluster of suicides often involving young people, Foxconn needs to reconsider how to efficiently inform employees using nonmediated and mediated communication. These young workers have to work 10 or 11 hours a day and are under extreme pressure to produce products with very intensive conditions. Once they get off work they are too exhausted to use recreational facilities such as gym or swimming pool so most of them just spend all their free time on surfing the internet. Based on this the company should find a better internet-based social media to communicate with their employees, for instance a discussion board that allow employees to leave the message and most important there is always somebody respond their opinion instead of giving them “punchbag” with the problem undiminished.

Maintaining good internal relations is working more efficiently between organization and the employees. Normally employees esteem respect more than wages. As a result, Foxconn should think over their controversial management style why employees accuse Taiwanese managers treat them with unequal and violent way? Is that truth? The company should go deeper to find out who the Taiwanese manager is? Why he/she did this? Make a punishment either by firing the manager or reduce his/her position to appease public opinion.

I do believe the problem may not be easy to resolve. Especially for Taiwanese businesses to open the factories or branches in mainland China, there is always political problem or cultural difference that affect organizational culture and regulation setting. As a leader, the suicide phenomenon is a warning to remind every organization to do a self check and make sure they cater to the demands of the new generation of workers.

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