Though Foxconn is spinning CEO Terry Gou's comparison of his workforce to zoo creatures as a cultural mis-communication, it doesn't change the fact that the company actually treats its workers like animals. During a presentation involving Taipei Zoo director Chin Shi-chien, Gou made the following remark. "Hon Hai (Foxconn) has a workforce of over one million worldwide and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache," said Gou, as reported English news-site Want China Times. After bad press, which Foxconn does not need after this month's suicide-protest, the company has responded, apologizing for the "out of context" comments, but conceding that the Foxconn CEO could still learn from the zoo director.
Let's set the record straight: Gou did compare his workers to animals, just not in the most insensitive way possible. From the Foxconn press release, via TechCrunch. "Mr. Gou did say that, since all humans are members of the animal kingdom, it might be possible to learn from Mr. Chin’s experience as his team looks for lessons that can be applied to business." Yes, the two organizations both manage thousands of beings. But, we imagine dealing with caged animals and humans present very different problems. Gou could probably learn things from the Taipei zoo's handling of all its creatures, but it could pick another big company to learn from. One that doesn't involve animals and that maybe treats its workers like humans.
The comparison came at a particularly bad time for Foxconn, as it just dealt with guilty bloggers berating it for pushing its workers to suicide. Foxconn's bad working conditions aren't a particularly new story. And both the manufacturer and the American companies that enable it (like Apple) have promised progress. But, if Foxconn's chief is going to learn something about management, the zoo's not the right place to go. Or, at least don't talk about it out-loud. In public.