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Apple sent COO Tim Cook to China after Foxconn suicides last year

February 15, 2011 |  4:36 pm

Foxconn employees

Apple sent Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook to China in June to review the facilities at Foxconn, one of the company's main manufacturing partners, after nearly a dozen employee suicides there.

"Like many of our customers and others around the world, we were disturbed and deeply saddened to learn that factory workers were taking their own lives at the Shenzhen facility of Foxconn," Apple said in its annual Supplier Responsibility report.

"Recognizing that we would need additional expertise to help prevent further tragedies, we launched an international search for the most knowledgeable suicide prevention specialists -- particularly those with experience in China -- and asked them to advise Apple and Foxconn."

Lf8csunc The suicides shocked Apple, Foxconn and the tech world, with many calling into question the working conditions at the Chinese firm, which also makes components for Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Nokia.

Psychologists and Buddhist monks were brought in to console workers, music was piped in to soothe employees and a stress-release center was set up with punching bags adorned with pictures of supervisors.

The Cupertino, Calif., tech giant sent two suicide experts with Cook -- who is among Apple's most important execs and currently handiling the majority of CEO Steve Jobs' daily responsibilities as Jobs is on a medical leave of absence.

Cook, and the suicide experts, were also accompanied by other Apple executives (who were not named in the report) to visit to Foxconn's Shenzhen factory and evaluate the working conditions there, Apple said in the report.

The group met with Foxconn CEO Terry Gou and  other executives and staff "to better understand the conditions at the site and to assess the emergency measures Foxconn was putting in place to prevent more suicides," the report said.

Apple also commissioned an independent review by a larger team of suicide prevention experts, the company said.

"This team was asked to conduct a deeper investigation into the suicides, evaluate Foxconn's response, and recommend strategies for supporting workers' mental health in the future," Apple said in the report.

In July, the independent investigators "surveyed more than 1,000 workers about their quality of life, sources of stress, psychological health, and other work-related factors," the report said. "The team designed the questionnaire, delivered and collected it, and tabulated the results without Foxconn's involvement."

The second team also interviewed workers face to face, met separately with managers, evaluated working and living conditions, reviewed "the facts of each suicide and the known circumstances behind them" and evaluated Foxconn's management of the crisis and counseling services, Apple said.

In August, the independent team presented its findings and recommendations to executives at both Foxconn and Apple.

"The team commended Foxconn for taking quick action on several fronts simultaneously, including hiring a large number of psychological counselors, establishing a 24-hour care center, and even attaching large nets to the factory buildings to prevent impulsive suicides," Apple said.

The independent team found that Foxconn had "worked openly with many outside experts and government officials" after the suicides and that the company's response probably prevented further suicides, the report said.

Several areas for improvement were suggested as well, such as better training for Foxconn's hotline staff and care center counselors, in addition to better monitoring of such resources, Apple said. Foxconn implemented the independent investigators' suggestions, the report said.

Foxconn has also begun the process of expanding into other parts of China, which could allow more of its employees to work closer to their hometowns, Apple said.

Foxconn applicants

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Top photo: Staff members work on the production line at the Foxconn complex in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on May 26, 2010. Credit: Kin Cheung / Associated Press

Middle photo: Tim Cook, Apple's chief operating officer, speaks at a Jan. 11 event in New York to announce that Verizon Wireless will start selling a version of the iPhone. Credit: Ramin Talaie / Bloomberg

Bottom photo: A recruiter from Foxconn talks to job applicants outside the factory in Shenzhen in southern China's Guangdong province Feb. 24, 2010. Credit: Associated Press

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