Foxconn, the Taiwan-based electronics manufacturing giant frequently criticized for poor working conditions, has reportedly begun replacing its factory workers with robots.
After a rash of worker suicides at Foxconn factories in China, the manufacturer of hardware for Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Sony announced its intention last year to replace some of its workers with robots. Terry Gou, founder and chairman of the company, told employees at a dance in July 2011 that the move was designed to improve efficiency and combat rising labor costs.
The first batch of 10,000 robots -- nicknamed "Foxbots" -- have arrived in at least one Foxconn factory, with another 20,000 due by the end of the year, according to a Singularity Hub post. The robots cost between $20,000 and $25,000 apiece to produce -- about three times the average annual salary of Foxconn's factory workers, according to a report on the Chinese Web site TechWeb.
CNET has contacted Foxconn for comment and will update this report when we learn more.
Foxconn, which has 1.2 million employees in China, has come under scrutiny in the past few years amid reports of employees committing suicide at company facilities. The company has also been accused of employing underage laborers, providing poor living conditions at its dormitory housing, and overworking employees.
Prior to the announcement of the the robot initiative last year, at least 16 workers reportedly committed suicide since the beginning of 2010 at Foxconn's factory in Shenzhen, China, a plant that employs hundreds of thousands of workers. Another three have attempted to suicide at the job site.
Most of the suicides have involved jumping from buildings. In response to the situation, the company promised to install "suicide nets" to discourage employees from jumping, as well as raise salaries by 25 percent.
Foxconn facilities have also been rocked by violent clashes involving factory workers. An hours-long riot involving thousands of employees forced one Foxconn factory in China to temporarily close in August. While Foxconn confirmed that incident and promised to address its causes, the company has denied reports that 3,000 to 4,000 workers staged a strike at another Foxconn factory in October.