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The media coverage this week has been breathless:
"Four suicide attempts in a month at Foxconn, the makers of the iPad," screamed the headline of a Telegraph article.
"Is Pressure at iPad Maker Foxconn Behind Four Recent Suicide Tries?" wondered Fast Company.
But before jumping to the conclusion that strong demand for Apple's iPad is forcing Chinese tech workers to kill themselves, let's all just take a deep breath.
As Gizmodo's John Herrman points out, the four suicide attempts this month at Foxconn's Longhua plant — a manufacturing behemoth that houses some 300,000 workers — are below China's national average:
"China's suicide rate was last recorded by the WHO at 13.9 deaths per 100,000 people per year, though it is suspected by many to be higher — later estimates peg the number at 23. The lower number would translate to 41.7 suicides per year, or about 3.5 per month, per 300,000 people; the higher estimate would translate to 69 deaths a year, or 5.8 suicides per month."
Yes, serious questions need to be answered by Foxconn, as well as all the other suppliers who make and assemble flashy gadgets for Apple, Nokia, Dell and others. The tech giants, themselves, must also be held accountable.
That's what we've been doing here at GlobalPost with Silicon Sweatshops, an ongoing investigation that employs on-the-ground reporting to figure out what's happening inside these complex global supply chains — from workers' rights, to pay issues, to legal rights, to health concerns.
It's clear from our reporting that U.S. and global demand for these products — and the iPad is only the latest example of this — imperils some workers in Asia.
It all comes down to economics.
Neither you nor I would spend many thousands of dollars for a smart phone, or even a shimmering tablet computer like the iPad (hence its mass-market, entry-level price of $499).
So tech giants exert tremendous pressure on myriad suppliers to produce more, for less, at a faster rate. That pressure, in turn, falls upon the backs of workers who end up toiling longer hours, and in some cases, putting themselves in danger to earn higher wages than they could find in rural villages.
Yes, there is a connection between our desire for the shiny and new, and the quality of these workers' lives. Yes, it's a dilemma. And this economic arrangement is not, necessarily, a bad thing.
But we won't get to the truth about what's happening in Longhua or in thousands of other factories with reporting innuendo and breathless, baseless accusations.
We'll only get there with more hard work.