Wednesday, 2 June 2010

France worse than China in workplace suicides.

The media was buzzing last week when the UK launch of the Apple iPad coincided with two employees of the Chinese electronics firm Foxconn making suicide attempts, one of them successful. The 25-year-old worker who cut his wrists on Thursday was the 13th suicide attempt since January at the firm's southern Chinese plant. Fortunately he was treated in time for his life to be saved. Not so fortunate was one of his colleagues who jumped to his death from the seventh-floor balcony of his dormitory building at the company's industrial complex in Shenzhen.

The Independent: Two more suicide bids at iPad plant hours after media tour

The factory, which is renowned for its efficiency, makes mobile phones, laptops and other digital equipment for a wide range of well-known clients, including Nokia, Hewlett Packard and Apple. Indeed the new iPad device is produced there.

Tragic though this news is, before we rush to condemn the company for its clearly questionable work practices and environment, it's worth pausing to put the story into context with other events much closer to home.

In fact, perhaps we shouldn't even be surprised at the sitiation in Foxconn. As long ago as the 19th Century, French sociologist Emile Durkhiem showed that suicide rates of different countries and populations were related to how well people were integrated into society and whether or not societies were undergoing rapid change and turmoil. No one could argue that the awakening of the Sleeping Tiger of China has not inevitably led to significant change and turmoil.

HR Case Studies readers will also be familiar with the shocking series of suicides at France Télécom which have taken place while the Company has been implementing a modernisation drive. Since February 2008, there have been 25 suicides and a further series of attempted suicides. The French government are already involved in this particular case, and ministers have urged a more ''humane'' approach to job changes at France Telecom, prompting the CEO to hire 100 additional advisers in human resources and launch negotiations with unions on workplace stress.

France Télécom halts restructure amid suicides

A look at the league tables of suicides (deaths per 100,00 of the population) clearly places the former Soviet Bloc nations at the top:
1. Lithuania (46)
2. Russian Federation (41)
3. Belarus (37)
4. Latvia (34)
5. Ukraine (31)

18. France (17)

28. China (14)

30. Germany (14)

44. USA (11)

56. United Kingdom (8)
As France is evidently a nation of greater suicide risk than China, rather than jump to conclusion about the pressures of work in the Far East, perhaps we should be taking a harder look at how our neighbours across the channel are responding to this situation.

Incidentally, the nations where suicide seems to be almost unheard of are Antigua and Barbuda, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Jordan, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Vincent and The Grenadines.

World Health Organisation: Suicide Rates (per 100,000), by country, year, and gender.

Take care out there; it's a stressful world


  1. Perhaps I need to revise my image of France: a country where women age gracefully, the food is divine and the mistress is revered not reviled. Sounds wonderful - obviously I was wrong!!! Think I’ll stick to the UK.

    After the terrible events that unfolded in Cumbria yesterday it does make you wonder what takes people to the edge (quite literally in the case of the guy in Shenzhen). Not sure that even a raft of HR Advisers could ever stop people entering such a state of despair that they take their own lives or that of others.

    But hey, the sun is shining, the windows are shut and there’s not a razor blade in sight. I think it’s going to be a good afternoon.


  2. How strange!

    A friend of mine bought me a desk calendar that contains various quotes. Having just remembered to change from last month to this I thought I would share with you the quote (from author Kathleen Norris) that will greet me for the next week or so: ‘In spite of the cost of living, it still remains popular’!!

    If you know anyone that’s good with languages perhaps you could get it translated into French!!!


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