Apple Supplier Foxconn's Boss Wins Support

Terry Gou, the embattled boss of Apple’s outsourcing manufacturer Foxconn (part of Hon Hai Precision Industry) has an unlikely ally in media tycoon Jimmy Lai. Lai’s chairman of Next Media, best known in the West for its animated coverage of news events like Tiger Woods’s car crash and JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater’s emergency exit. The Hong Kong-listed company is also the publisher of Taiwan’s number one newspaper, Apple Daily, and a popular newsweekly, Next Magazine, both famous for their hard-hitting, often tabloidy coverage of the news. With Foxconn still struggling after a series of worker suicides called attention to the hours, pay and conditions at its Chinese factories, the company is taking hits. Last month a group of Taiwanese academics called Gou’s company “the shame of Taiwan.”

Lai doesn’t buy that. Such statements are “bulls—t,” says Lai, who stopped by the Bloomberg office in Hong Kong for an interview this morning. Gou’s critics, the media boss says, don’t give him enough credit. “The guy has built factories, and provided so many jobs to China. This is tragic, that some people jumped. But you can’t just say it’s the shame of Taiwan. The guy still has people lining up to join the company.” Lai says the suicides could have happened anywhere. “Imagine when people have to leave their hometown and live in a small dormitory where people have no relatives. This is a very difficult, very tough life,” he says. “It’s just the nature of the factory make up. You drag people away from their life, that makes life very difficult.”

Lai’s publications haven’t shied away from covering the company and its difficulties - and while Foxconn in the past has sued journalists who wrote critically of the company and its labor practices, Lai says doesn’t see Gou or Foxconn trying to intimidate the media now. “The guy knows he’s in deep s—t; when somebody’s in deep s—t, it’s difficult to intimidate anybody. For him to think he can intimidate the media, I don’t think he’s that stupid.”

Update: Here’s some more on how Foxconn is handling the fallout from the suicides. According to this report from Bloomberg News, a Chinese newspaper reports Foxconn is testing would-be workers at a new plant in the central city of Zhengzhou on their ability to handle stress. An applicant has to take a test, my colleagues write, with 70 questions “including evaluations of the effects of sleep deprivation, depression and loneliness.”

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