Foxconn, Apple's iPad and more desperate calls for help

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BROMPTON ROAD — The story won’t go away.  Although coverage might have lightened today.  The 13 different Chinese 18-24 year-olds who have tried to kill themselves this year are not going unnoticed.  Most of them died.  But the world outside Shenzhen in southern China has paid attention.

Shortly after the media had packed up and left the Foxconn manufacturing site yesterday, two more employees attempted suicide.  One succeeded.  The CEO had to turn his plane around and go back.

There are 400,000 people in and around this Foxconn site.  Which makes it a city in itself.  With all kinds of people and a diversity of backgrounds.  So whether the actions of these employees be very private pain or a larger, global cry for help, the timing with today’s mad scenes on Regent Street and around the world with the launching of Apple’s latest must-have toy cannot be denied.

And yet Foxconn — like any other industrial enterprise — need not be in this situation.  There are a few simple things that can be done to relieve this kind of pressure.  Here are a few:

1. Create a better sense of community
As learned in the dehumanizing “council estates” of Britain, simply locating people close to each other doesn’t create community. Community organisations with shared responsibility and choice do.

2. Give people a sense of choice (decision participation)
Helplessness comes with a lack of involvement in the decisions that guide your life.  Those decisions don’t need to be big ones, but they do need to be freely made.  Where I live, who I live with, could be two.

3. Watching the most vulnerable
Every successful society looks out for it’s most vulnerable members.  It is a test of humanity.  And it is made harder when those people are hard to identify.  But no one intentionally makes bad decisions when alternatives and other views are freely available.

4. Think about how you run the business
We call it organisational culture, but call it whatever you want.  Businesses are not naturally benign or benevolent forces in people’s lives.  In fact, capitalism (yes, you can even say that in China these days) is just the opposite.  Businesses are not built for people, they are built for profit and for shareholders.  It takes strength of character and management to change that.

5. Show courage to act in the longer term
Foxconn has announced today that salaries will be increased.  A short-term and maybe initially successful reaction.  (I can hear my friends in PR high-fiving each other.) But the real solution to this issue and the others cropping up in rapidly industrialising areas is more complicated.  It will take longer.  It will involve more change and internal communication.  And more attention.

You can do it.

I know you can.


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