The Worst of Foxconn 2012: From Suicidal Workers to the Robots that Will Replace Them

Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturer that mass produces many consumer hardware brands including the iPhone, has received a lot of attention in the past few years for it poor working conditions. But it seems that this year the company, which employs over one million workers throughout China, has hit a new low.

One of the biggest stories in January was the news of 300 Foxconn employees who decided to protest against their employer’s refusal to increase compensation by threatening suicide by jumping from atop their plant.  A local official eventually defused the situation  in a move that probably saved hundreds of lives, but this isolated incident is not the last we heard of Foxconn in 2012.

Less than two weeks after we reported the incident, company chairman Terry Gou was quoted as saying that managing “one million animals gives me a headache,” referring to the workers who man the manufacturer’s factories.

This whole ordeal eventually caught up with Apple, which orders most of its products from Foxconn. The mobile giant said it would have it’s suppliers’ factories inspected by the Fair Labor Association, and promised to sever ties with any OEM that uses child labor. But this proved to be yet another open-ended headline.

Last month Foxconn admitted hiring student interns between the ages of 14-16, and went as far as to take full responsibility in an e-mailed statement. Reports that the company has threatened the family of a former employee who has been vitally injured on the job began to surface around the same time.

All this brings us to today. Alongside fresh rumors that suggest Foxconn may be considering an expansion to the US, the company has apparently started replacing its workers with automated machines that cost around $20,000 to $25,000. An initial purchase of 10,000 of these “foxbots” has already been completed according to local publications, and another 20,000 are expected to ship by the end of this year.

Here with more on Foxconn’s influence on consumer tech in 2012 is founding editor Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins, who discusses the plant and other trends of the year during an interview with our NewsDesk’s Kristin Feledy.