Sunday, 30 May 2010

Why is the suicide rate so low at Foxconn.

Foxconn is a chinese company that you may have heard a lot about recently. There has, according to the BBC been "a string" of suicides there recently. According to the Times there is a "spiralling suicide crisis". Reuters says there has been "a spate of employee deaths".

10 people have committed suicide this year at a particular Foxconn factory in China (where a lot of parts for the iphone are made, apparently, which I think is why this is supposed to be a news story). The factory employs 300,000 people. I make that a suicide rate of (approximately) 7 people per 100,000 per year. The suicide rate in China is about 13 people per 100,000 per year. In other words, working for Foxconn cuts your chance of committing suicide almost in half!

How is it possible for every single person everywhere in the world's media to have gotten this story exactly backwards? There are a lot of very clever people suggesting "explanations" for the suicide rate at Foxconn. Unfortunately, they're trying to explain why it's so high, when they should be doing the opposite! This should lead us to seriously doubt these people's 'explanations' when the phenomena they're describing happen to be real. If your theory can explain anything, it has no explanatory power at all.

However, I think the main story here is how this became a story. What is going on? Why did someone decide to report the suicide rate at Foxconn instead of, say, the suicide rate among Tesco employees (another company which employs around 300,000 people, at least in the UK). And how did no-one notice that what they were reporting was in no way interesting.

1 comment:

Mark Taylor said...

This isn't very robust either. Suicide rates correlate with unemployment, for example, so if the suicide rate among Foxconn employees were the same as that in the general population it would suggest an abnormally high suicide rate.

Not that that makes the media narrative more robust. I guess nobody knows what's going on!