Foxconn’s Suicide Solution: Robot Worker Empire

Foxconn’s Suicide Solution: Robot Worker Empire

It may sound like something out of an Isaac Asimov novel or a James Cameron film, but the parent company of iPhone maker Foxconn is working to build an “empire of robots” to replace over a million Chinese workers.

The company, which assembles devices for a number of electronics giants including Apple, broke ground Saturday on a $223 million R&D plant in central Taiwan. The event “marks the beginning of Hon Hai’s bid to build an empire of robots,” according to a statement by officials of the Central Taiwan Science Park.

In August, Hon Hai chairman Terry Gou said he wanted over the next three years for the robots to replace 500,000 factory employees doing “simple work.” What sort of simple work? A Chinese report at the time mentioned “spraying, welding and assembling.”

While it is unsure whether robots will assemble the next iPhones or iPads, the automatons could help the surge of suicides bedeviling the Foxconn plant.

For some time, Foxconn has tried to solve the problem of worker suicides. Previous attempts have included improving the work atmosphere, increasing pay and even moving some workers.

Even so, suicides remain a big thorn in the side of the electronics manufacturing giant. A ‘robot empire’ is one way to pluck that thorn, sure, but are phasing out employee self-terminations for employees being killed by Terminators really the optimal strategy?

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  • FriarNurgle

    Day dook ra yobs

  • yoyogipark

    “… the surge of suicides”

    Get your facts straight. This has been thoroughly debunked. Foxconn has half a million employees and suicides per capita at Foxconn are no higher than most regions in the US.

  • Figurative

    And then the only thing stopping Apple and others from making products in the US would be our insanely high corporate tax rate. 

  • Alberto Hernandez

    500,000 extra unemployed. That’s great.

  • Phil

    Well that’s retarded, if that was the case then we can just build a factory here…

  • Al

    Most of our cars are built by robots. If anything, it’s surprising that our consumer electronics are not already.

    When parts of our iDevices, or even entire iDevices, are made using additive manufacturing, then that will be truly amazing.

  • Mike Rathjen

    Technically we have the second highest corporate tax rate in the world, but that’s only on paper. There are so many loopholes and deductions that we also have the second lowest effective tax rate in the world.

    The primary driver for offshoring labor is cheap labor.

  • Mike Rathjen

    Yeah but who will build the robots? Or are they self-replicating?

  • Sean Peters

    Thank you. Amount of US taxes GE paid in the most recent tax year: $0. This business about our “insanely high tax rate” is a zombie lie that needs to be killed once and for all.

  • TokyoSpark

    Foxconn has many many customers, not just Apple. The whole suicide thing has been played out and proven to be no more than comparable populations elsewhere. The bigger issue is that those 500,000 employees will now soon be… unemployed. I await the post blaming this on iPhone any time now. This articles and especially the headlines on this site are becoming more and more sensationalist and outright hostile to Apple just in order to get page reads. Whatever happened to the Mac fannish reporting that built this site?

  • Mike Rathjen

    Well, it’s more complicated than that. Many companies do find ways around the high tax rate, but also many companies do in fact pay it. For example, Walmart’s effective tax rate is about 32.5%, which is very close to the listed rate of 35%.

    Also, the Times was incorrect. GE is paying an effective tax rate of about 7.4% for 2010, not $0. That rate is unusually low for GE, which typically pays a lot more. It is a low year for them due to writeoffs from massive losses in their financial arm and due to the massive expensive of buying Comcast. Their effective tax rate this year of 7.4%, even though it’s unusually low for them, is more than three times as high as “do not evil” Google’s effective tax rate of 2.4%.

    So, to sum it up, for 2010:
    Base rate: 35%
    Wal-Mart: 32.5%
    GE: 7.4%
    Google: 2.4%

    “Do no evil” Google places the lion’s share of its profits into a small Irish subsidiary using Cayman Island tax shelters. All of it legal.

About the author

Ed SutherlandEd Sutherland is a veteran technology journalist who first heard of Apple when they grew on trees, Yahoo was run out of a Stanford dorm and Google was an unknown upstart. Since then, Sutherland has covered the whole technology landscape, concentrating on tracking the trends and figuring out the finances of large (and small) technology companies.

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