Foxconn Horror Stories Make Our HR Professionals Cringe

by | Feb 10, 2012 | Blog

  • Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success. Contact us for more insights - 502-753-0970 or

On a recent episode of CBS’s “Sunday Morning,” Charles Osgood featured a story about the horrible conditions of a factory in China.

Back in 2010, 18 Foxconn workers who could no longer face the long hours and ghastly working conditions threw themselves off the factory’s roof resulting in 10 deaths.

Back in May 2011, an explosion in the factory resulted in four deaths and 18 injuries.

Just a few weeks ago, 150 workers protested the factory’s working conditions by standing on the roof and threatening suicide. (The workers were coaxed down after two days.)

That’s just some of the horrific stories about Foxconn. After hearing these stories, we wondered what could make these workers take such drastic measures. What product is worth more than human life?

Look down at your phone. Look at your computer. Look around you. Foxconn produces gadgets such as Amazon’s Kindle and Microsoft’s Xbox, HP computers, and even products for Sony, Ninetendo and yes, Apple. The explosion back in May was a result of aluminum dust particles created by cleaning the iPad.

Makes you look at your iPhone a little differently, doesn’t it?

The focus of the CBS story wasn’t the suicide; no that was old news. It wasn’t even about the most recent explosion or the protest. No, it was about the nets. Foxconn put nets around the building to prevent workers from committing suicide. Read that again. They put nets around the building to prevent workers from jumping. Oh and they also required employees to sign pledges that promised they won’t kill themselves.

That is the part that gets us. It’s like putting a Band-Aid on someone with a life-threatening illness. There are bigger problems here.

As HR professionals, we are disturbed that any company would treat their employees this way. We understand there is a cultural difference, but there is line. And Foxconn has crossed it.

Let’s think about what Foxconn is doing wrong and how companies should act. Your company could be guilty of committing some of the same HR no-no’s (on a much smaller scale of course).

Here are a couple of lessons learned from the
Foxconn Horror Stories:

The Importance of Setting Realistic Goals.

Banners on the walls in Foxconn warn the 1.2 million employees: “Work hard on the job today or work hard to find a job tomorrow.” (At Foxconn’s plant in Longhua, five percent of its workers, or 24,000 people, quit every month.)


With Apple products in high demand, Foxconn employees have been working overtime to produce the products. One employee was expected to apply 4,000 stickers a day onto iPad screens by hand and work at least 60 hours a week in an assembly line. Apple’s supplier code of conduct dictates that, except in unusual circumstances, employees are not supposed to work more than 60 hours a week. But Foxconn paystubs reveal that most employees work 12 hour a day, 6 days a week (72 hours a week). Employees who arrived late were sometimes required to write confession letters and copy quotations. There were “continuous shifts,” when workers were told to work two stretches in a row, according to interviews with employees.

That is no way to treat employees. Companies must set realistic goals for employees. Now, we’re not saying that goals shouldn’t be challenging, after all, you want your employees to work hard. But goals should not be so out of reach that it makes employees want to jump off the roof.

The best practice is to have a performance management program in place so you can review employees’ performances and help them set goals. A good performance management program includes goals for employees to work toward each year. For long time employees, even good reviews are demotivating when they say the same thing year after year.  (“Is anyone really paying attention to what I do?”)  At review time, you can discuss whether or not they’ve reached their goals, what helped, what got in their way, and what goals they want to shoot for in the coming year.  Have employees involved in setting their own goals, too, so that they have buy-in to what the company is trying to achieve.

The Negative Consequencs of Ignoring Problems (big or small)

It’s hard to pick what is the most disturbing part of the Foxconn story. Arguably, it could be the fact that Apple and the other vendors know about the conditions at Foxconn.

Apple conducts hundreds of audits of its suppliers. Since 2007, the audits have revealed that employees regularly work more than 60 hours a week and workers receive less than minimum wage or have pay withheld as punishment. There were also “core violations” (the most serious kind) including cases of  involuntary labor, discrimination, under-age workers, record falsifications, improper disposal of hazardous waste, improper safety precautions, failure to pay required overtime rates, and over a hundred workers injured by toxic chemical exposures.

Now, Apple is taking the steps to figure out what the problems are, but to our knowledge, it stops there.

Audits or Operational Reviews reveal problems related to recordkeeping, recruitment processes, employee compensation and benefits, federal and state regulation, employee relations, performance management, and workplace safety. An audit of your policies and practices can greatly reduce your risk of fines and lawsuits.

We have to give Apple credit for doing their due diligence of conducting audits. After all, what have the other vendors done? BUT as far as we can tell (and from what has been reported) Apple has forgotten the most important part—fixing the problems they find in audits. Once you discover there is a problem within your company whether it has to do with recordkeeping or workplace safety, you must do something about it.

Apple may have created the suppliers “code of conduct,” but it doesn’t seem like they are enforcing it. This is like going through all the trouble of creating an Employee Handbook and then not making your employees read it or enforcing the policies. Policies are written on pieces of paper and are easily forgotten. Policies must be enforced in order for managers and employees to follow them.

There is such a great opportunity here for the Foxconn vendors to improve their reputation. One article suggested that vendors could bring manufacturing to the U.S, pay a reasonable wage or even start a marketing campaign with “Made in the U.S.A” at the center.

The point is: There is something that needs to be done. We are outsiders; so of course, it is easier for us to see the flaws within Foxconn. Sometimes CEOs, supervisors, and managers are too close to the problems to actually see them.

That’s why hiring a third party like Integrity HR to conduct your HR audit and HR services is so valuable. A third party isn’t involved in the day to day workings of your business. A third party is a fresh pair of eyes that can help point out the problems in your organization that are affecting your productivity. Just like it is easy for you to see what is wrong at Foxconn, the HR professionals at Integrity HR can easily pinpoint the HR danger zones within your business.

Whether your company is struggling with performance management, goal setting, compensation plans, or if you need a complete audit to figure out what your problems are, Integrity HR is here for you.

Let Foxconn be a warning to you:  Don’t set unrealistic goals and don’t ignore problems whether they are big or small. We just hope that Apple and the rest of the vendors will react soon and punish Foxconn before more employees suffer.

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