A Biased View?

This week’s Reith lecture by Professor Martin Rees dealt in part with society’s inability to adequately assess risk.

I was reminded of this when reading in the Economist about suicides at the Foxconn plant in China.

Foxconn makes electrical components for many electronics companies, including Apple. The launch of Apple’s iPad in the UK last week led to many stories of conditions at the Foxconn facility, a vast complex employing about 400,000 people, and its high suicide rate. Such stories appeared in the Daily Telegraph (the headline: “A look inside the Foxconn suicide factory”), the Guardian (“Latest Foxconn suicide raises concern over factory life in China”), the Independent (“A gadget to die for? Concern over human cost overshadows iPad launch”) and the BBC (“Foxconn calls on monks and counsellors to stem suicides”). There have been a lot of articles.

The general tone was that the conditions in the Foxconn complex were such that many people resorted to suicide from despair of working there.

The thing is, according to the Economist,

The toll (a dozen this year) is lower than the suicide rate among the general population in China.”

And according to the Telgraph (in a different article)

Steve Jobs, chief executive of Apple, said that the suicide rate at the Chinese factory – where 12 of the company’s 400,000 employees have killed themselves this year – was lower than the overall suicide rate for the United States.”

I am not making any comment on the working conditions in the complex or anywhere else. But it seems that perhaps we need to inspect our own cognitive bias, and Foxconn should maybe be lauded rather than criticised.

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