After many years of blogging, and consistent with my desire to move toward retirement, we have ended the Insights blog. Thanks to Doug Bedell for his years of blog support.

900,000-For-All In Chinese Factory ‘Cities’

Posted on September 13, 2010
Filed Under Business, Technology | Leave a Comment

We’re feeling a little differently about using our iPhone and other electronic gadgets after reading the Bloomberg Businessweek profile of the Foxconn Corp. in China, which operates from city-sized factory campuses and has had to give special attention to preventing suicides among its 920,000-plus employees in mainland China.

Not that Foxconn’s working conditions, apparently, are all that dire. They’re not necessarily crushing, just concentrated, apparently with middle managers who aren’t sufficiently trained or adept at dealing with employees en masse.

Terry Gou, Foxconn’s  hard-charging founder and chairman, has been eating three meals a day at work and not getting a lot of sleep figuring how to keep the huge company growing while being more considerate of its employees at the same time. American firms like IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Apple and Dell are wishing him well, for they are among Foxconn’s high-tech customers.

Gadgets come at a price, and the price is more than the figures on a sales slip. Consumers need to recognize that. Foxconn can concentrate efficiencies to produce electronic innards at highly advantageous prices, but consumers around the world should be rooting for it to become increasingly proficient at insuring the welfare of its armies of employees.

Chairman Gou seems to understand that installing suicide-prevention nets on Foxconn dormitories isn’t really the answer, though the nets were installed last May, Bloomberg Businessweek reports, after the ninth Foxconn worker jumped to his death this year, .

The pressures of obtaining enough raw materials and maximizing production in the face of brisk consumer demand – think of how effectively Steve Jobs revs up interest in Apple’s latest products, for instance – possibly haven’t allowed comparable attention to workplace issues. But Terry Gou seems intent on catching up there. Foxconn has launched a “Prevention-Reengineering Caring” program including “24-hour care centers staffed by certified counselors…and is teaching managers to be more attuned to workers’ emotional needs.”

“‘Yelling is not the only way,’ says Louis Woo, a 62-year-old Stanford graduate, whom Foxconn “picked to brief Bloomberg Businessweek on the company’s transformation into a more benign corporate citizen.”

Indeed not. Companies who sell tools for better, more efficient lives for consumers need to apply that same ingenuity to managing their workers well, as challenging an obligation as that may be. – Doug Bedell


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