The controversial Foxconn manufacturing plant in China is under the spotlight once again, after up to 300 employees working on the Xbox 360 assembly line threatened to commit mass suicide following a pay dispute.
The dispute occurred when a dispute over compensation prompted hundreds of workers to threaten to throw themselves off the roof of the giant plant in Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei, Want China Times reports.
The action started on 2 January, after employees who had requested a pay rise were rebuffed in the strongest possible terms. They were told they could either quit their jobs and receive severance pay or stay on with no increase in salary. Most chose to quit and take the money, but Foxconn allegedly reneged on the compensation deal.
The workers, outraged by the company's decision, climbed one of the plant's roofs and threatened to jump. They were eventually talked out of the mass suicide by the Wuhan mayor.
This event is the latest in a long spate of suicides and attempted suicides at the Foxconn plant. At least 14 people took their own lives at the plant in 2010, which drove management to take the drastic measure of installing anti-suicide nets on the sides of buildings to reduce the number of deaths.
"Microsoft takes working conditions in the factories that manufacture its products very seriously, and we are currently investigating this issue," the company said in a statement.
"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 Foxconn plant manufactures products for Microsoft, Apple, Sony, Nintendo, HP and many others. The company was also the subject of a recent undercover investigation by reporter and self-confessed Apple fanboy Mike Daisey, whose one-man show was featured on popular US radio show This American Life this week.
Daisey uncovered numerous instances of exploitation of workers, including hiring underage workers, refusing to give medical treatment to victims of workplace accidents, extremely cramped living quarters, excessive overtime requirements and a black list circulated by a Chinese government agency of "troublemakers" who dared complain about mistreatment.
The report included detailed statements from Apple on the steps it has taken to improve working conditions for the people who make its products -- laboriously and by hand, as Daisey describes. It also makes the point that Foxconn and other plants are having to improve conditions themselves to keep staff, as a high rate of turnover is proving costly.
We recommend listening to the podcast, it's an enlightening look behind the curtain of the gadget trade. What do you think? Should electronics companies be holding their suppliers to higher standards? Or is this kind of exploitation inevitable in developing countries? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or over on our Facebook page.
Image credit: Want China Times