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Microsoft probing report of Foxconn mass-suicide threat

Employees at a Chinese factory that makes Xboxes reportedly made the threat over a pay dispute.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
2 min read

Microsoft is probing a report that more than 300 workers at a Foxconn factory that makes Xboxes in China threatened a mass suicide earlier this month over a pay dispute.

Employees at the Wuhan, China, plant made the threat on January 2 after their demand for pay raises was rejected, according to Kotaku. Wuhan's mayor reportedly intervened on January 3 and talked the group off the building.

Foxconn, a Chinese company that makes hardware for companies such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Sony, told CNN the dispute had been settled, but the details of that resolution were not disclosed.

Microsoft said it began an independent investigation when it learned of the incident.

"It is our understanding that the worker protest was related to staffing assignments and transfer policies, not working conditions," a Microsoft representative told CNET. "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."

The Microsoft representative went on to say that the company "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."

At least 16 workers have taken their lives 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 kill themselves at the job site.

Most of the suicides have involved leaps from buildings, leading the company to promise to install "suicide nets" to discourage employees from jumping and announcing it would offer a 20 percent wage increase to some workers. Foxconn parent Hon Hai Precision Industries has been repeatedly accused of forcing employees to work long hours for low pay under stressful conditions.

The company recently announced it would replace some of its factory workers with robots to improve efficiency and combat rising labor costs.

Updated at 5 p.m. with Microsoft comment on its investigation.