There's nothing like a cultural difference to make communication between two countries nearly volatile. A reference in one culture could mean an entirely different thing in another. Take for instance the latest stunt by Foxconn CEO Terry Gou, who was speaking during an employee year-end party along with Chin Shih-chien, director of the Taipei Zoo.
As reported by English news-site Want China Times, Gou made an off-the-cuff remark about caring for his employees, but the translation made it sound oh so much more worse given that just weeks ago, 300 employees tried to jump off a Foxconn factory roof in protest against a lack of payment.
"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," Gou said. He then reportedly added that he admired the way Chin managed his animals, putting lions and tigers together, but not chickens and tigers.
"I should ask you to come run my company," he said to an embarrassed Chin.
The thing is, he meant every word to some degree, just not in the "insensitive" way it was presented to English-speaking readers. Following a media lashing, Foxconn quickly released a statement, clarifying what was actually said.
"There have been some media reports regarding a conversation that Foxconn Technology Group Chief Executive Officer, Terry Gou, had with the Director of the Taipei Zoo, Chin Shih-chien, at an employee event organized by Foxconn on January 15 in Taipei to benefit a range of charitable organizations through a contribution of USD 1.4 million," Foxconn writes in a public statement. "In an effort to encourage his management team to learn from all aspects of life, 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. Mr. Gou’s comments were directed at all humans and not at any specific group.
"While some reports on Mr. Gou’s comments in Mandarin were taken out of context and do not accurately reflect the full scope of that conversation, Mr. Gou does understand how these reports could be misinterpreted and seen as insensitive and he sincerely apologizes to anyone who might be offended by them," the statement continues. "At no time did Mr. Gou seek to portray Foxconn employees in the negative context some media reports have suggested."
The comment arrives just after Apple published its sustainability report for the first time, detailing the working conditions it discovered at Foxconn and other Apple component suppliers. Overall, only 38-percent of the 229 suppliers audited had working hours in compliance with Apple's standards. Some factories were found to be using children and many factories were pushing workers beyond a 60-hour work week. Apple even discovered that the explosions which took place last year at Chinese plants of two of its parts suppliers were caused by excessive aluminum dust.
"We were deeply saddened by events at two of our suppliers in 2011," Apple states. "An explosion at Foxconn’s Chengdu factory tragically took the lives of four employees and injured 18 others. An explosion at the Ri-Teng (a subsidiary of Pegatron) factory in Shanghai injured 59."
Given the recent news surrounding Foxconn, the suicides and Apple's report, it's no wonder the media thought he was referring to employees as zoo animals.