Foxconn Factory Owners Install Suicide Prevention Nets
Longhua, Shenzhen, China
Taiming Chen and Bowen Zheng
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Foxconn, a large Taiwanese manufacturer of electronic devices such as Apple, has produced a large number of high-quality products and made great contributions to customers. However in 2010, a controversy of Foxconn arose rapidly after a series of suicides happened in Longhua Foxconn factory. As reported, 12 laborers from Longhua Foxconn factory continuously jumped from the dormitories and committed suicides. The public voice, then, began to denounce Foxconn and attribute the reason of suicides to its poor working conditions. Under the huge pressure of the denouncement, the owners of Longhua Foxconn factory installed suicide prevention nets around the buildings. Nevertheless, this approach triggered a new controversy of whether installing suicide prevention nets was a proper way of stopping suicides. Why did the public regard anti-suicide nets as unpleasant? As an architectural device attached to the dormitories, suicide prevention nets became a nonnegligible part of the whole architecture in Foxconn factory that would strongly influence the inhabitants. Based on the subordination of laborers to the owners, suicide prevention nets were actually designed to be an architectural tool for owners to control the behavior of laborers.
To begin with, the geographic position of Foxconn factory most explicitly reflects the control.
Located in an undeveloped remote area, Longhua Foxconn factory is quite isolated from Shenzhen city. Being the largest factory of Foxconn, Longhua factory, also called “Foxconn city”, is a huge complex with complete facilities inside, such as dormitories, dining hall, library, computer lab, and even a hospital. Obviously, through constructing such a complex, the owners can easily regulate the factory and laborer’s work, since almost all basic needs of laborers can be satisfied within the factory.
However, this complex, with its strict entrance check-in and inspection system, also cuts off the necessary connection to the outer world. Although laborers are allowed to leave the factory at the end of day, they have few choices of where to go. The infrastructure outside of factory is simple and crude, with only a few restaurants and mobile phone shops surrounded. The transportation and surrounding buildings are still under construction, which limits the activities of laborers. After suicide prevention nets were installed, the degree of isolation even rose. As reported, the nets were both extruded out between the second floor and the third floor, and stretched vertically on top of buildings. When they were integrated into the architecture, not only was the factory isolated from the outer society, but also a single dormitory started to be isolated. The relationship between a dormitory and other facilities was rudely cut off and no longer existed. Even though for owners, suicide prevention nets acted as a form of protection and the physical control of potential risk of suicides, the control was accomplished through the seclusion of laborers from the outside.
Besides, the whole architecture in Foxconn factory was constructed and administrated under the surveillance system to achieve the control of laborers.
Each floor of manufacturing buildings contains workbenches arranged in line uniformly so that camera monitors and supervisors can easily watch the producing process of laborers and control the efficiency of manufacturing. This system can be compared to the Panopticon, a round form of prison proposed by Jeremy Bentham in the late 1700’s. Within the Panopticon, all the prison cells are arranged on the perimeter.
The supervisor sitting in the central tower of the prison can have a full-scope supervision of prisoner’s behavior. When the similar surveillance system was applied in Foxconn factory, laborers did not dare to talk during work and were afraid of making any mistakes, or otherwise they would receive strict punishment. Treated like prisoners, laborers were likely to feel depression and despair, which increased the risk of suicides. Same effect came about after suicide prevention nets were installed. In owners’ position, nets could be a helpful tool to stop not only the suicides but also the public denouncement which might cause a negative influence on Foxconn’s economic profit.
They designed anti-suicide nets to be a supervisory tool that would tell and force laborers not to drop themselves from the buildings. To strengthen the degree of supervision, the security personnel were also arranged on the rooftop to patrol and stop laborers from committing suicides. The security personnel were at the same position as the supervisor in the Panopticon: they were at the highest point of the building with rings of anti-suicide nets surrounding the perimeter of the building; they had best visual range so that every attempted suicide would be witnessed, controlled, and stopped immediately by them. Under the combination of suicide prevention nets and the security personnel, control of suicides could be carried out easily.
Moreover, the control was performed also by the way of confining, which was inhumanity and immorality. Before anti-suicide nets were installed, the owners asserted that nets were useful and necessary, since they could be a firm obstruction and buffer for persons who fall down from the top. Unfortunately however, after nets were installed, the tragedy happened again. A female throwing herself out of the dormitory easily broke the net and died after salvage. Now that it verified the vulnerability of anti-suicide nets, the nets became a huge irony and triggered a new question of what role it would continue to play after this tragedy. From an interview, a laborer from Foxconn factory depicted her feeling, “I feel really constrained at Foxconn since the suicides. Now everywhere there are safety nets, they’ve set up these nets everywhere. It gives you a really constricted feeling. I’m depressed”.
Some laborers even gave a comparison of the wire-covered dormitories to a cage in zoo. As is known, although a cage is used to protect animals from external harm such as natural forces, its most important role is to control the behavior of animals, to trap them so that they cannot escape. In the same way, buildings surrounded by anti-suicide nets had already lost its initial function of protecting human safety after its failure of holding the person falling down. The only effect the nets left was to imprison laborers as animals. Inside the wire-covered dormitories surrounded by dense anti-suicide nets, the freedom of laborers was restricted, and the human dignity was ignored. The laborers lost their right of being a human because they were forced to be trapped like animals. Buildings with nets could not dedicate to control suicides anymore but mistakenly started to control the human freedom and became a pure imprisonment.
In conclusion, based on the isolated geographic position and surveillance system, suicide prevention nets, the external architectural device that was attached to buildings, mainly reinforced the control power in Longhua Foxconn factory. Even though this control power was initially aimed at protecting human safety, it was too overwhelming for human without moral consideration, especially after it was verified as futile to save laborers’ life. In such case, then what the architecture can be designed to stop suicides and protect human safety in a humanistic manner is worthy probing into and drawing lessons from history.
Juan Li and Yanbiao Sun, “Deep Investigation on Foxconn’s management system: the devil among details”(管窥富士康运行模式：魔鬼在细节之中), China
Business News, May 18th, 2010, http://tech.sina.com.cn/it/2010-05-18/01464197571.shtml
The author attributes the extreme working condition of Foxconn to the factory’s pure pursue of high profits and military management. The architecture of whole company acts as a huge producing machine, whereas each laborer is like a small part of the machine and achieves standardization of producing. As an example mentioned that laborers cannot talk freely while working, they lose basic human rights and work like machines. While the laborers form the whole producing machine, the architecture as machine becomes a killer.
Runan Zhou, “Zhou Runan: The Foxconn Workers who lived in Panopticon”(周如南：生活在“圆形监狱”的富士康工人), accessed September 28, 2012, http://gcontent.oeeee.com/d/ba/dba132f6ab6a3e3d/Blog/795/157be6.html
This article makes a comparison between the management of Foxconn and the Panopticon. The panopticon is an ideal form of prison proposed by Jeremy Bentham in the late 1700’s. Based on the military management, the laborers of Foxconn are compared to prisoners who live under the pressure of always being supervised, while the security personnel acts as supervisors who have right and are able to watch and control the labors’ life. This control even got more rampant when Foxconn began to install suicide prevention nets.
Bing Song, Wenxiang Sun, “Despite the Massive Cost on Suicide Prevention Nets, the Tragedy Could Not Be Stopped”(巨資修建防護網 難阻昆山富士康墜樓悲劇), China Business News, August 8th, 2010, http://finance.sina.com/bg/tech/sinacn/20100808/1104113898.html
After several suicides, Foxconn approved several policies to prevent the next suicide, such as rising salaries, reducing overtime works, installing suicide prevention nets, etc. However, these policies could not stop workers committing suicides. In August 4th, 2010, few days after the nets were installed, another female worker jumped out of the building, broke the nets, and smashed on the ground. Although she did not die right away but later in the hospital because of the nets, it still verified the futility of nets.
Hang Su, “The Real Foxconn: A trip of Longhua, Shenzhen, Foxconn ”(真实的富士康：深圳龙华富士康之见闻), Pcpop, March 27th, 2012, http://tu.pcpop.com/all-777022.htm
This journal depicts the surrounding environment of Foxconn in Longhua. As the images show, Foxconn is located in a remote and undeveloped area far from Shenzhen city. The infrastructure is simple and crude, with only a few restaurants and mobile phone shops surrounded, which limits the activities of laborers. Besides, with the safety inspection on the entrance, the factory itself has a strict control of persons entering or leaving Foxconn, which restricts the communication between the laborers and the outside.
Jie Zhang, “The Foxconn has to stop the bleeding first, then heal the wound”(富士康务须“先止血，再治病”), Ifeng Blog, May 23rd, 2010 (7:20 a.m.), http://blog.ifeng.com/article/5504073.html
The author claimed that installing suicide prevention nets and having security personnel patrolling on the top of dormitories are necessary and right ways to avoid suicides, and they can effectively stop the imitation of suicide. He also put forward an example that Cornel University also used these approaches after suicides continuously happened. Those approaches have been verified to work effectively.
Wikipedia contributors, “Foxconn suicides”, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Foxconn_suicides&oldid=572455727 (accessed September 15, 2013).
This Encyclopedia presents a full scope of suicide events in Foxconn including every suicide case. It presents how Foxconn responded to the event: installing suicide prevention nets and signing an agreement of no-suicide.
Wikipedia contributors, “Foxconn”, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Foxconn&oldid=572647764 (accessed September 15, 2013)
This encyclopedia shows that the largest factory of Foxconn is located in Longhua, China. It is often called “Foxconn City” because of its large dimension and complex facility. In addition to demonstrating the poor working condition and suicides events in Foxconn, the encyclopedia reported that the suicide rate at Foxconn does not exceed that of general population in China.
Chan, J. (2013), A suicide survivor: the life of a Chinese worker, New Technology, Work and Employment, 28: 84–99. doi: 10.1111/ntwe.12007, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ntwe.12007/full
The author had an in-depth investigation in Foxconn and experienced the work in Foxconn personally. The manufacturing process was too intense without any free time. He also witnessed how other laborers were punished by losing dignity. The surveillance and inspection system everywhere deprive the privacy of laborers. Even though suicide prevention nets were installed after suicide events, laborers regarded them as another kind of surveillance or imprisonment and felt depressed.
Ngai P., Chan J, Global Capital, the State, and Chinese Workers: The Foxconn Experience(2012) Modern China, 38 (4) , pp. 383-410, http://mcx.sagepub.com/content/38/4/383.full.pdf+html
In this article, the author comprehensively analyzes Foxconn Company and its economic position. Also, the article talks about the Foxconn’s corporate culture and its “human subordination” management. By studying Foxconn, the authors listed several factors that can be the fuse of series attempt suicides.
Zone map of Foxconn at Longhua, Shenzhen
This is the Foxconn system in Longhua, Shenzhen. The system includes factories, swimming pools, stores, hospital, fire stations, etc.
Video and Audio
“APPLE EXPOSED: The TRUTH About ISlave’s At FOXCONN Factory!!” Youtube Video, 10:01, posted by “Tsiyonut times”, October 19th, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8GQNJ0WJb4&noredirect=1
The video shows the facility of Foxconn company and discusses the role that facility plays. Although the facility including library, computer lab, swimming pool, etc. is quite complete for a company, it creates a secluded entity from the world at the same time. Besides, the huge building stack and the inspection system in entrance imprison laborers, while laborers become slaves of Foxconn. The suicide prevention nets also look like fishnets and reinforce the imprisonment.
“The Foxconn installs suicide prevention nets for preventing further suicides”(富士康建防护网阻跳楼), Ku6 Video, 1:03, posted by “Laikandedoushidahaoren”, December, 2012, http://v.ku6.com/show/0-XHYLg8DI2V-kH7HZsnhg…html
The video shows how suicide prevention nets were installed. The nets have two layers: one is extruded out between the second floor and the third floor; another is stretched vertically on the top of buildings.
“The Daily Trio 20100526: An inspection of the big working environment from the Foxconn lence, Part A” (锵锵三人行20100526从富士康事件看员工工作大环境A), Youtube Video, 7:02, posted by sjzwhg, May 26, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bz7xmNp8eto
“The Daily Trio 20100526: An inspection of the big working environment from the Foxconn lence, Part B” (锵锵三人行20100526从富士康事件看员工工作大环境B), Youtube Video, 7:02, posted by sjzwhg, May 26, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAnz1RtfR2Y
“The Daily Trio 20100526: An inspection of the big working environment from the Foxconn lence, Part C” (锵锵三人行20100526从富士康事件看员工工作大环境C), Youtube Video, 7:02, posted by sjzwhg, May 26, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXcPUJgunLM
These videos argue about the working environment at Foxconn and compare the military-like management at Foxconn to the Tokyo mode after the WWII. (Part A, B, &C)
“Fear Factory”, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, first broadcast January 16th, 2012 by CNN. Directed by Chuck O’Neil and hosted by Jon Stewart, http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-january-16-2012/fear-factory
In this video, Jon Stewart made fun of the Foxconn and compared Foxconn manufactories with prisons.