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?