Conflicting accounts are beginning to get media attention about a group of possibly hundreds of workers at a plant in China who threatened to commit mass suicide over a pay dispute. Workers for Foxconn - which makes parts for the Xbox, iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Wii, and the PS3 - apparently took to the roof of one of the company dormitories and made the threat.
A report via Kotaku says the event followed an employee request for a raise, but were told they could either keep their jobs with no increase or quit and get severance pay. Other reports say the company told the employees their Xbox production line was being shut down and some would be transferred and the rest simply fired. As for the number of those who made the suicide threat, reports range from a few dozen to as many as 300. (More pictures here.)
Foxconn is the world's largest maker of electronic components, and is also the largest private employer in China. In 2010, one worker did commit suicide at one plant, which prompted the company to install 'suicide prevention netting' at some of their plants. Recent investigations at the some of the plants showed near-military like conditions for workers who are under constant surveillance as they work and live at the factory dorms.
Microsoft did issue a statement about the incident -
"Microsoft is one of many companies that contracts with Foxconn to manufacture hardware. Upon learning of the labor protest in Wuhan, we immediately conducted an independent investigation of this issue.
After talking with workers and management, it is our understanding that the worker protest was related to staffing assignments and transfer policies, not working conditions. Due to regular production adjustments, Foxconn offered the workers the option of being transferred to alternative production lines or resigning and receiving all salary and bonuses due, according to length of service. After the protest, the majority of workers chose to return to work. A smaller portion of those employees elected to resign.
Microsoft takes working conditions in the factories that manufacture its products very seriously. We have a stringent Vendor Code of Conduct that spells out our expectations, and we monitor working conditions closely on an ongoing basis and address issues as they emerge. Microsoft is committed to the fair treatment and safety of workers employed by our vendors and to ensuring conformance with Microsoft policy."
The radio show "This American Life" aired an episode on Jan. 6, 2012 about working in the electronics factories in China and for Foxconn.
The company's full list of customers is available here.