Three hundred Chinese factory workers who manufacture Microsoft Xbox 360s threatened mass suicide last week, according to unconfirmed reports.
The Foxconn employees threatened to throw themselves off of a factory roof due to a payment dispute, according to Record China and Want China Times. According to these reports, the incident began when employees asked for raises on Jan. 2 and were asked to either quit with compensation or keep their jobs without a raise.
Most of them chose to quit, but did not receive the promised compensation.
Microsoft could not confirm whether the mass suicide incident took place at Foxconn Technology Park in Wuhan, China. A spokesperson declined to confirm whether the factory is even a manufacturer of Xbox 360s, saying that the company does not disclose which specific products are manufactured by which suppliers.
“Microsoft takes working conditions in the factories that manufacture its products very seriously, and we are currently investigating this issue,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement to Mashable. “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.”
Foxconn Technology Group, the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer, counts Apple, Dell and HP among its clients — most famously producing the iPhone. But despite the employee talent shows, sports tournaments and training programs in its promotional material [PDF], the company has a lousy track record when it comes to employee suicide. Wired calculated in its March 2011 issue that 17 Foxconn workers have killed themselves in the past five years.
Some of Foxconn’s factories are surrounded by anti-suicide nets, and employees have reportedly been asked to sign a “no suicide” pact. After interviewing 120 Foxconn workers, authors of a May 2011 report [PDF] by Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour found significant instances of labor abuse at the factories.
“Workers always have excessive and forced overtime in order to gain a higher wage,” says the report. “Workers are exposed to dust from construction site and shop floor without adequate protection. Even worse, they are threatened by potential harm of occupational diseases in various departments. Additionally, military-styled management is still in practice, characterized by ‘military training’ for new workers.”
In June 2011, Apple sent its then-COO Tim Cook and a team of independent suicide prevention experts to review Foxconn’s factory in Shenzhen. According to an Apple report released in February 2011: “The investigation found that Foxconn’s response [to the suicides] had definitely saved lives.”
If the current reports are true, however, the response may not have been enough.