Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Are Foxconn Suicides Misrepresented By Media? Employees Are Far Less Likely To Committ Suicide

Posted by Tom Foremski - May 27, 2010

Patrick Mattimore, a fellow at the Institute for Analytic Journalism, recently published the following article on China’s People’s Daily Online, headlined: Media badly misplaying Foxconn suicides.

Taiwanese-owned Foxconn has had seven suicides this year. That sounds like a lot, but the firm has an estimated 800,000 workers, more than 300,000 of them at a single plant in Shenzhen.

Although exact figures are hard to come by, even the most conservative estimate for China’s suicide rate is 14 per 100,000 per year (World Health Organization). In other words, Foxconn’s suicide epidemic is actually lower than China’s national average of suicides.

I checked his figures. World Health Organization suicide figures for China (1999) are 13 males and 14.8 females per 100,000 people.

Elderly (65+ years) suicide rates can be as much as 50% higher than youth (18 to 24 years), which means Foxconn’s suicide rate, with its younger workforce, should be significantly below the national average.

Let’s estimate an average of 10 suicides per 100,000 at Foxconn. Just the Shenzhen Foxconn plant alone, with its 330,000 employees, would be expected to have about 33 suicides this year, or 14 so far.

Foxconn has had just 10 suicides this year, and that’s across its entire workforce.

Working at Foxconn dramatically reduces people’s risk of suicide!

Mr Mattimore is right, the media is misrepresenting the facts. He writes:

The larger problem stems from the fact that most journalists have not been taught to critically examine statistics. They follow the herd which often means that they report numbers without providing readers a context for making sense of those numbers.

Hopefully, the public will wake up to the fact that there is nothing wrong at Foxconn and demand that newspapers act more responsibly and begin supplying some context when they decide to instigate their next corporate suicide watch.

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Additional info:

Researching and developing non-traditional analytic methods and communications tools for journalism.

Statistical resources for journos

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