Case Study of the Foxconn Suicides: An International Perspective to Framing the Sweatshop Issue Analysis



The analysis done by the anti-sweatshop movement concerning the western mainstream media changed the perception of North American and European consumers towards the treatment of the laborers in the sweatshop-prone countries (Guo, Hsu, Holton, and Jeong, 2012). The consumers discovered that western transnational corporations subjected workers to very deprived working situations in countries such as India and China. Low pay, discriminative treatment, and perilous environments characterized the working conditions better known as ‘sweatshop’. Suicide cases stirred up much ado about the sweatshop practices. However, the media chose to cast a blind eye to the major underlying problems of global social injustice and features of the global economy. Worldwide labor unions and various activists struggled to uncover the sweatshop issue, but there was insignificant change. The labor practices in these companies harmed human rights and reduced social and economic development rates. Social actors, such as the government, activists, and international organizations, gave their versions of the story. They wanted the public to get their opinion of the story. The news media have a significant role in presenting biased information. The Foxconn suicide is an example of a global sweatshop issue that presented an ethical dilemma in the news media. The issue enveloped various issues, such as global justice and human rights. Many individuals claim that the issue revealed ethical dilemmas in news media. The issue affected many stakeholders of the Foxconn group because the media gave different information regarding the events that took place. The analysis of the Foxconn suicide reveals various issues surrounding the sweatshop matter.

The Foxconn suicide is a global issue because of the controversial reports made by the media. Fourteen employees committed suicide in thirteen months. The news media of the United States reported that the incident occurred in China, so they had no answers concerning why the individuals committed suicide. They claim that China should remain accountable because the employees who committed suicide were Chinese and not Americans. They framed China for the case, yet the two countries participated in running the Foxconn Group. They blamed the poor living conditions on the country’s economy and not the ethics of the organization. The news media’s ethical dilemma arose because the media did not acknowledge that the Foxconn group was a sweatshop. The employees provided cheap labor without any increment in their salaries. The worked under harsh working conditions, and no one bothered to address their issues. Many people rely on the media to get news, so the media took advantage of this fact to provide information that favored each end of the social actors. The media should provide unbiased information to the public and not give varying reports that favor significant parties. The United States media did not reveal the problems faced by the workers in the Foxconn group. They wanted the whole world to believe that China’s social and economic instability enhanced the deaths of the employees. The media also highlighted the issues facing the country, to cover up the inappropriate working conditions. The United States media linked the murder with the poverty level in the country and claimed that the Foxconn group had nothing to do with the suicide.

A Case Study of the Foxconn Suicides an International Perspective to Framing the Sweatshop Issue

The news media use the deontological theory to address the issue of the Foxconn suicide. The deontological theory suggests that people should follow identified rules while performing their tasks. The news media gave reports that favored each social actor. When approached by the activists, they claimed that the Foxconn group was a sweatshop. The United States government framed China for suicide. This made the media reveal the poverty in China. They highlighted other issues that enhanced the suicides to remove the United States government from the blame. The news media obeyed the rules made by the social actors because each of them had a significant role in the country. The news media also followed the utilitarian theory because they wanted to present news that would bring change to various individuals’ lives in China. They presented the poor living conditions of the Chinese people to make the government address the issue. The breach also aimed at reducing the number of sweatshops in the region. The breach had an impact on the Foxconn Group workers and other sweatshops because consumers did not want to associate themselves with their products. The news media used these two theories because they had to obey the rules and also help many people in marginalized areas.

The ethical breach had direct or indirect impacts on various stakeholders. Steve Jobs, a significant stakeholder of the company, claimed that the company was not a sweatshop. This statement had an immense impact on his company, Apple. Activists in China and the United States revealed that the company was a sweatshop. The deaths of the employees also acted as evidence against the claims of Steve Jobs. His statement was controversial and seemed to favor the Foxconn group because portraying the group’s negative impact would affect the relationship between the two companies. The news media publicized Jobb’s statement, and people had various opinions. Jobs’ statement harmed the employees of his company and those of the Foxconn group. The breach made the employees believe that the two companies did not care about their welfare. The topmost officials were more concerned about the future of their businesses than they had about that of the employees. The breach also encourages more deaths of employees because they believe that their companies have no concern about their welfare. The breach also harmed the customers of Apple. Customers may not feel comfortable using products made by people who have no human rights. Apple products are expensive, so the employees should also benefit from the profits of the company. The perception of the customers will also affect the sales of the two companies.

The government plays a significant role in ensuring companies pay their taxes and making laws that enhance the company’s progress. The ethical breach also has an impact on the governments of the two countries. The governments of the two countries failed to play their full role in running of the Foxconn Group. The world develops a negative view of the United States government because it failed to address the Foxconn employees’ issues. The United States played a significant role in running the Foxconn Group. The government had the responsibility of ensuring that the workers had an appropriate working environment. The United States government claimed that the issues happened in China, so the government of China should blame it. The Chinese government also neglected the human rights of the Foxconn group employees. The ethical breach also harmed the Chinese government because they portrayed it as a failed government. The Chinese left the rural areas to work in companies like the Foxconn group because they wanted to survive. This meant that the government of China made insignificant efforts to develop rural areas. These people were desperate for jobs, so they did not care about the working conditions. They felt that they could persevere, but when they realized that even workplaces could not solve their problems, they opted for suicide. This issue portrays a negative picture of the Chinese government and the companies in China. The ethical breach made people believe that all companies in China misuse the workforce to make profits, although this may not be the case. The local authorities must ensure that companies follow the laws and regulations required by the law. The breach also harmed the local authorities because the whole world knows that they did not follow up on the company’s activities and how they treated their employees. The local authorities had the responsibility of presenting the issues facing the workers to the judiciary. The employees committed suicide because they felt that no one cared for their welfare. They believed that the government and the local authorities played an insignificant role in changing their situation.

The breach had a positive impact on the employees of the Foxconn Group. Activists painted an awful picture of the company through the media. They claimed that the group was a sweatshop company, so the company had to take several measures to protect its name. The company identified the characteristics of a sweatshop company and decided to eliminate them from their group. They increased their employees’ salaries to make people believe that the suicides were not linked to the Foxconn Group. They also gave their employees psychological assistance to discourage other employees from committing suicide. They also introduced no-suicide contracts and worker rallies and placed safety nets around their buildings. According to Steve Jobs, Foxconn Group made these efforts to prevent suicide cases, but the number of suicides increased.

Ethical decision making is a process that requires an analysis of ethical rules, principles, and virtues (Trevino and Nelson, 2004). It also requires the maintenance of relationships to guide the decision-making process. People should make ethical decisions when faced with dilemmas. Structuralism, phenomenalism, and constructivism are aspects that enhance ethical decision making (Kohlberg and Colby, 2010). Structuralism suggests that people should analyze behavioral patterns that influence the actions of an individual or group. Phenomenalism is an approach that considers the subjects’ point of view when making decisions, while constructivism is about creating new meanings from the situation at hand. Everyone, including individual violators, is accountable for disobedience of ethics, but prosecutors should consider the factors that led to the act. People have various reasons behind their actions, so the ethical process involves several steps to make efficient decisions. The steps include problem identification, collection of relevant information, evaluation, and analysis of alternatives, decision making, implementation, and review of the action. The decision-makers may consider the consequences of the actions to determine the purpose of the violation. They may also consider the entitlements of the subjects or distributive and procedural justice.

All organizations have a corporate social responsibility. They have discretionary responsibilities that require them to be noble corporate citizens. They should contribute resources that improve the quality of life of the people in the community. Organizations also have ethical responsibilities that compel them to engage in actions that cause no harm. They should make just and fair decisions. They also have a legal responsibility of obeying the law, so they should go by the rules of the country. All organizations have economic responsibilities that make them profitable. Economic responsibility is the foundation of all organizations. The Foxconn Group neglected some of these responsibilities. They neglected the ethical responsibility by unjust decisions that led to harm. The inappropriate working conditions contributed to the deaths of their employees.


The news media has a significant role in the economic development of a country. The news presented by the media may positively or negatively impact the progress of a company. The news media also use various theories when they reveal issues to the public. Social actors also have a significant role in the news media operations. The government, activists, and international organizations are significant figures in a country, so the news media has to follow most of what they say. Disobedience may have an immense impact on the media house. Sweatshops still exist in the modern world. Many companies misuse the human labor force to make huge profits. They humiliate their employees and give them low salaries because they know that these people have no voice or choice. They also discriminate against some employees and have inappropriate working conditions. Some shareholders are also inconsiderate of the welfare of the employees. Deontological, consequentialism and utilitarianism are theories that enhance decision-making. The deontological theory suggests that people should follow the rules. Utilitarianism advises people to do things that have a positive impact on the majority, while consequentialism urges people to concentrate on matters that will have beneficial endings. People should consider various aspects when making decisions to benefit society. They should analyze the factors that lead to a subject’s behavior, the point of view of the subject, and the societal norms. Individual violators should face the consequences of their actions. No one should violate the ethics of an organization for personal benefits. Ethical decisions are vital because some have a direct or indirect impact on the society. It requires an adequate analysis of various aspects that trigger a violation. All decision-makers must follow the ethical decision-making process to ensure that the subject gets fair judgmental organizations have a corporate social responsibility that enhances their progress. The scrutiny of individual and organizational violators has the same steps. The discretional, ethical, legal, and economic responsibilities assist the companies to meet various goals. Companies that fulfill these responsibilities attract many clients. The Foxconn Group should admit their mistakes and work towards improving the situation in the company. They should think about the future of their company. Once they admit their mistake, the consumers may react negatively to the news but will appreciate the company’s efforts to remove itself from the sweatshop category. If they continue to deny that, people will struggle to look for aspects that link them with sweatshops. This will make consumers continue to reject their products.

  • Guo, L., Hsu, S., Holton, A., and Jeong, H.S. (2012). A case study of the Foxconn suicides: An international perspective to framing the sweatshop issue. International Communication Gazette, 74(5), 484–503. DOI: 10.1177/1748048512445155.
  • Kohlberg, L., and Colby, A. (2010). The Measurement of Moral Judgment, Volume. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Trevino, L. K., and Nelson, K. A. (2004). Managing business ethics: Straight talk about how to do it right. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


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