Apple, Dell, and HP comment on suicides as Foxconn CEO shows off the pool

On an 84-degree day (29 C) at a Chinese factory housing some 400,000 workers, at least 2 of them were enjoying the Foxconn swimming pool. We know this because the notoriously secretive Foxconn CEO, Terry Gou, was showing off some of the workers' facilities to the press to assure the world that he was not operating a sweatshop. Foxconn has received a great deal of attention lately after a rash of suicide attempts this year left 2 workers seriously injured and 9 people dead. While these numbers are relatively low compared to World Health Organization data showing a suicide rate of about 14 deaths per 100,000 Chinese, Foxconn contends that there were only one or two suicides a year previously at its Shenzhen factories. Today Gou announced that Foxconn has 70 psychiatrists and 100 voluntary workers trained to help prevent suicide. Great, problem solved.

As you probably know, Foxconn is behind the assembly of many major consumer electronics brands including HP, Nokia, Dell, and Apple -- the latter two have come out with statements expressing their respective concern. Apple had this to say:

"We are saddened and upset by the recent suicides at Foxconn. We're in direct contact with Foxconn senior management and we believe they are taking this matter very seriously. A team from Apple is independently evaluating the steps they are taking to address these tragic events and we will continue our ongoing inspections of the facilities where our products are made."

And Dell this:

"We expect our suppliers to employ the same high standards we do in our own facilities. We enforce these standards through a variety of tools, including the Electronics Industry code of conduct, business reviews with suppliers, self-assessments and audits."

During today's press event, Tang Wenying, a young Foxconn line supervisor said, "This is a good place to work because they treat us better than many (other) Chinese factories." And that may be the most worrisome aspect of this: Foxconn, by all accounts, provides some of the best conditions for the Chinese workers it employs. What does that say about the anonymous (and thus, invisible) chain of small suppliers and secondary assembly facilities nobody reads about?

Update: HP says that it is also investigating "the Foxconn practices that may be associated with these tragic events."