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Comments come two years after he called employees unruly "animals" and comparing himself to a cattlemaster

Terry Gou, 63 -- the CEO and major shareholder of Hon Hai Precision Industry Comp, Ltd. (TPE:2317) -- is making headlines again for interesting comments he made at his company's annual shareholders’ meeting.
 
I. Mission to Replace Migrant Workers With Machines is Moving Ahead
 
At one point he dropped a hint that Hon Hai's massive subsidiary Foxconn may have completed work on an automated plant for its top consumer electronics client, Apple, Inc. (AAPL).  The factory lies in Chengudu, China he says, elaborating:
 
We haven’t talked much about the factory, but it’s manufacturing a product from a very famous company.
 
Foxconn also makes motherboards and laptops for most major PC OEMs, with orders of several million for most of the world's top PC makers.  It also manufactures all of the current generation of video game consoles and Amazon.com, Inc.'s (AMZN) Kindle eReaders/tablets.
 
Foxconn RobotFoxconn's new robots are seeing signs of success. [Image Source: AFP/News9]

But it seems likely that Apple would get first privilege at Foxconn's new automated assembly line for a number of reasons.  As the primary manufacturer of the roughly 60 million iOS devices Apple sold in Q1, Apple is likely far and away Foxconn's largest client, with annual device orders approaching a quarter billion units.
 
Apple is also one of the most demanding clients, as it is always trying to squeeze its manufacturers' to lower costs, while demanding some of the industry's most challenging smartphone assembly techniques and an uncompromising level of secrecy.  That makes robots particularly attractive as they never ask for raises or leak prototypes of your upcoming product designs.
 
Foxconn Chairman
Foxconn CEO Terry Gou

If Apple is the recipient of the new factory, it could be a rather interesting relationship as Foxconn's robotics effort is backed by a key alliance with Apple's nemesis, Google Inc. (GOOG).  After initially struggling in its automation bid, it appears that Foxconn is finally turning the corner.  Foxconn's latest robots -- enhanced by Google's growing robotics prowess -- are being manufactured in-house at a rate of roughly 30,000 robots per year.  For now, Foxconn is closely holding these robotic workers.  Mr. Guo comments:
 
We don’t sell them, because we don’t have enough for our own use yet.
 
Some are less than happy with the Taiwanese CEO, complaining that he's abusing his workers, while looking to replace them with robots.  But that's what's come to be expected in recent years as Foxconn's success -- and controversies -- have exploded.
 
II. Billionaire -- "[My employees] are also animals... [and] animals gives me a headache"
 
While he prefers to be referred to by his Anglicized name, Terry Gou, Mr. Gou's true name is Gou Tai-ming.  He got in on the ground floor of the U.S. outsourcing trend, designing connectors for the Atari console at a small startup factory in Taiwan in 1980.  By 1988 he had moved to China, setting up a factory in Shenzhen.
 
Today, Foxconn has expanded astronomically to account for a whopping 40 percent of all consumer electronics manufacturing worldwide.  While it has facilities in Europe, Mexico, and South America, the heart of its manufacturing empire still lies in China where it has 13 factories in nine cities.  Foxconn is China's biggest employer and its Shenzhen facility is a veritable "city" of its own, with between 250,000 and 450,000 seasonal employees.
 
Most of the assembly of Apple products has traditionally been done in Shenzhen.
 
Controversy began in July 2009 when an employee who lost an iPhone prototype was beaten by plant guards and then fell to his death.  Foxconn claimed that the employee committed suicide, but some believed that he was murdered.
 
And if there was any ambiguity in that case, a spate of suicides in 2010 was far less ambiguous.  Reportedly a total of 14 employees killed themselves at Foxconn's Apple-geared plant that year.  While this wasn't that high a suicide rate compared to U.S. suicide rates, it nonetheless drew controversy as local media reports indicated a "hellish" working environment.  Foxconn admitted to making many employees work 12 hours a day, six days a week.  And some employees were reportedly working even longer -- working up to 18 hours.

Foxconn employees
Chinese protest Foxconn's harsh working conditions. [Image Source: AP]
 
Aside from the employees who committed suicide -- who were compensated under the company's insurance plan -- at least one employee was allegedly "worked to death".  Foxconn refused to give that employee's family anything.
 
Perhaps more than anything, Mr. Guo's response rubbed many the wrong way.  At his 2012 annual shareholders meeting two years ago, he remarked in Chinese [translated]:
 
Hon Hai has a workforce of over one million worldwide and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache.
 
The attitude struck many as heartless for someone with so much money governing a workforce that he paid so little.  Indeed many of his policies -- including punishing employees who talk while working on the assembly line or who take too many lavatory breaks -- seem to border on inhumane.
 
Foxconn employees
Foxconn's weary workers are asked to skip meals to attend unpaid meetings and are punished for taking too many bathroom breaks. [Image Source: Southern Weekly]

In 2010 when the suicides struck, Foxconn employees were making around $140 USD a month ($1,680 USD/year), according to ABC News, while Mr. Guo's 13 percent stake in Hon Hai made him worth roughly $5.9B USD.  
 
Others countered such criticism pointing to the charitable work Mr. Guo had done in his parents’ former hometown in Gewan, Shanxi Province, China.
 
III. Foxconn Owner Continues to Blame Dead Sweatshop Workers for Suicides
 
Today criticism about Foxconn's rising levels of unpaid employee overtime and its admission to using underage "interns" -- illegal under China's laws -- continues to draw ire from international observers, even as his defenders counter such such accusations.

His defenders, though, will have a tough time defending some of his remarks at the shareholders meeting.  He first characterized the dead workers as greedy gold-diggers, complaining:
 
We at first gave a compensation that was so high, the families of the suicide victims’ would never be able to spend it all.
 
To put that claim in context, employees who attempted suicide, but failed were given roughly CN¥180,000 in a one-off "humanitarian" payment -- or about $29,000 USD.  The families of those who actually succeeded in killing themself on average were paid around CN¥100,000 -- or roughly ~$16,000 USD.  At the 2010 national average wage for migrant manufacturers ($196 USD per month) that's roughly seven years worth of pay for the workers who killed themselves or 12 years for those who failed.  It's a lot of money for a migrant worker's family, to be certain, but "more than they could spend" seems like a pretty harsh exaggeration.
 
But he didn't stop there.  He cited a statistic he claimed to have read in "some news article" that stated that mosquitos were the leading cause of death worldwide, followed by suicide.  Actually neither suicide nor malaria are in the top ten causes of death, let alone the top two, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

From that flawed statistic, his rant took an even more troubling turn.  He remarked:
 
This [the suicides] is what happens when your company reaches a certain scale.  It wasn’t because the workers were tired.  Some of it was because the work is monotonous, but 90 percent of it had to do with personal relationships or because of family disputes.
 
It's sad to see such comments, but this isn't the first time we've seen them, certainly.  In 2010 he stated:
 
If a worker in Taiwan commits suicide because of emotional problems, his employer won't be held responsible, but we are taken to task in China because they are living and sleeping in our dormitories.
 
That claim seems highly specious as the family members and friends of the dead workers almost all claimed that their chief reason for wanting to kill themselves was feelings of hopelessness about their harsh job and low pay.  Many family members said their deceased sons or daughters had sadly wanted to send a message about Foxconn's abusively low pay.
 
And ironically, if that was the employees' intent it worked.  Perhaps Mr. Guo is more bitter that today base employee wages for Foxconn's migrant workers in China are roughly CN¥2500 (~$402 USD/month) on average -- nearly three times what they were in 2010.  The unruly "animals" had cut into Mr. Guo's profit.

Terry Gou marriage
While his employees are reportedly enduring hellish working conditions, billionaire Foxconn chief is enjoying a dream life.  He recently married his much younger dance teacher (left).
[Image Source: Taiwan News/Forbes] 

In his book, The Sayings Of Terry Gou, which employees are virtually forced to read and quote, he comments:
 
A leader must have the decisive courage to be a dictator for the common good... Behind every accomplished disciple, there is a stern mentor... You can't go wrong trying to stick with the strictest and most demanding boss.
 
Together his words paint a picture that this billionaire king of Chinese manufacturing views himself as a wrangler of sorts, forever driving his obedient herd about in its pens.  In Mr. Guo's own words his employees are animals -- and like many ranchers he seems to have little sympathy if one of his herd "falls off".  After all, to him they're just animals -- he can always find more to replace those that fall, be they men or machines.

Source: PC World



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RE: stay on article
By Monkey's Uncle on 6/30/2014 3:45:03 PM , Rating: 3
The lack of compassion is where you are so cool with this guy replacing a large portion of his 100,000 thinking and reasoning employees with robots. There are 3 billion people in China; 60% of which that need to work in order to live and support families. Having a place like foxconn turfing out his employees and replacing them with robots is basically like dumping almost 50% of those people out into the streets to starve.

You say that it will reduce faulty goods. Yeah, but so will employing more than 2 shifts of people in a 24hr day.

Tired employees make mistakes. Have them work 3x 8hr shifts and like magic, you reduce mistakes and faulty goods! As well you are magically providing badly needed jobs for 30% more people.

Here are some facts for you:

Machines do not work 24/7. You run machines like that and they break down FAST (just like people). Machines require energy to run which costs more money. Machines require maintenance and trained technicians. Machines pollute the environment in a country that is already the highest polluter in the world.

Sure the guy is a CEO and entitled to have a cute, young, high maintenance wife. Why not? More power to him! That does not give him the right to force his employees to recite the wisdom from his book every day and treat them like cattle.

What can we do about it? Well, I think you are on the right track Reclaimer -- tell Apple to stuff their iPads up their poop-chutes sideways. If enough of us do that (and I mean DO it not just gripe on a tech forum), apple just might think about who it is they are doing business with and push them.

But don't stop there. Most android phones and tablets are made by foxconn as well. How about the circuit board parts in that console and that computer (90% computer motherboards are riddled by connectors made by foxconn regardless of its branding). The innards of your TV and your microwave. The oven and the washing machine. Your car. All stuffed full of foxconn parts.

You want to do something about how Foxconn treats its people? Go to the various manufacturers and tell them straight up that you will not buy their products as long as they support suppliers that treat their employees like this. Perhaps these social reforms and employee standards need to be kicked in the ass by people like you and me. If enough of us do that, the reforms WILL happen - or the people making the huge $ off us will start seeing those $ shrink..


RE: stay on article
By Reclaimer77 on 6/30/2014 4:46:53 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
The lack of compassion is where you are so cool with this guy replacing a large portion of his 100,000 thinking and reasoning employees with robots


I don't see why I should be forced into the position that if one concedes automation makes sense, he's a big old evil person lacking in compassion. Come on, that's ridiculous!

To hell with your premise and to hell with you, sir.

The car you drive, assuming you own one, was also made mostly with automated robots. OMG, why aren't you riding a bike? Where's your compassion!!!???

quote:
Machines require energy to run which costs more money. Machines require maintenance and trained technicians. Machines pollute the environment in a country that is already the highest polluter in the world.


uhh "facts"? Machines don't eat food. They don't crap thousands of pounds of fecal matter into the sewage systems. They don't drive cars, etc etc etc.

I'm pretty sure all told, these machines have FAR less of an ecological footprint than your average person.

quote:
I think you are on the right track Reclaimer -- tell Apple to stuff their iPads up their poop-chutes sideways.


I have not contributed one solitary dollar to Apple over the course of my entire lifetime. Fact. So I'm right there with you here.

quote:
You want to do something about how Foxconn treats its people?


Honestly? Not really. I have my own problems, and my country has it's own problems. And I'm sorry that some people in China have it bad, but there's just nothing I can do about it beyond boycotting Apple.

I don't feel that makes me a bad person, sorry. I'm not Bill Gates. What do you want from me?


RE: stay on article
By Monkey's Uncle on 6/30/2014 7:16:22 PM , Rating: 2
WooHoo! :D

quote:
I don't see why I should be forced into the position that if one concedes automation makes sense, he's a big old evil person lacking in compassion. Come on, that's ridiculous!
...to hell with you, sir.


I already told you where that compassion is lacking. Perhaps you missed it? Trust me, If I'm not already in hell, then I will be there soon enough.

quote:
The car you drive, assuming you own one, was also made mostly with automated robots. OMG, why aren't you riding a bike? Where's your compassion!!!???


The car was assembled in an assembly line in the Michigan. Last time I looked I have yet to see an American company with a million employees looking to replace half of them with robots. And if one tried, your dear president (regardless of which one is in power) would step right in and put a stop to it. Frankly I have yet to own a car (and I have owned about a dozen from brand new) that did not have quality control issues. Even the Lexus I had was rather less than perfection. And.... wait for it... each one was built with ROBOTS. So where is that quality control that robots are supposed to ensure?

I would bet my last dollar that if any of those cars was HAND BUILT BY HUMANS it would have 100% less quality control issues than the others. There is a reason why hand-built cars and engines are highly sought after and priced far above those made on a robotic assembly line.

quote:
uhh "facts"? Machines don't eat food. They don't crap thousands of pounds of fecal matter into the sewage systems. They don't drive cars, etc etc etc. I'm pretty sure all told, these machines have FAR less of an ecological footprint than your average person.


Machines don't eat food. They eat electricity and fossil fuels. And huge amounts of it! 5 line workers will consume about $7 each in food during their shift - $35. How much money in energy will that robot that replaces them burn during that same shift?

What you fail to realize is that even with robots putting all those people out of work, the same number of people people will need to eat, shit, well they won't drive cars because they are now OUT OF WORK, etc etc etc. Just the same as when they were working at that factory. The people don't just disappear. They are still there, only they are now out of work. Also most people that work in a Chinese sweatshop are paid so little they can't afford to drive cars even when they ARE working. They walk, ride a bike or take your favorite - the mass transit system to get to/from the job. So that part of your argument is shot too. Now let's ADD THE ROBOTS! Oh my! all those now-out-of-work people eating, shitting, trying to find a job and now on top of that ROBOTS chewing up even more energy, spewing even more pollutants and breaking down...

Yep, robots sure are the real energy star winners here.

quote:
I have not contributed one solitary dollar to Apple over the course of my entire lifetime. Fact. So I'm right there with you here.


Good for you. I bet Apple is so hurt by you lack of sponsorship that they are telling off foxconn right now. Did you tell them why you are not buying their products? I doubt you did (telling Tony does not count). I'm sure that if if you did though the whole idea that they are using foxconn is their supplier would never come up.

quote:


Honestly? Not really. I have my own problems, and my country has it's own problems. And I'm sorry that some people in China have it bad, but there's just nothing I can do about it beyond boycotting Apple.


We've all got problems bud.

I told you what you could do about it, but the 1st 3 words of your quoted response again shows your lack of compassion - regardless of how you try to backpedal in the same paragraph. But anyway, you got one thing wrong in your earlier posts... we are not talking about a company that employs a 100,000 people. No. Foxconn employs One Million People give or take 10 or 20 thousand. When a company that size looks to replace half a million with robots, there is a problem. A BIG one. It is just a spit in the bucket of China's 1.3 billion people. But that number of people represents more than the entire population of Atlanta Georgia. So imagine every person in Atlanta out of work and looking for a job and tell me again how Foxconn's CEO is so cool in replacing his workforce with robots.

quote:
I don't feel that makes me a bad person, sorry. I'm not Bill Gates. What do you want from me?


Who says you have to be Bill Gates? Frankly he was just as guilty with his outsourcing to these sweatshops.

I don't think you are a fundamentally bad person. You are just fun to troll.


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