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Microsoft probes mass suicide threat at China plant

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 1:53 AM EST, Thu January 12, 2012
Students protest during Foxconn's annual general meeting in Hong Kong in June 2010.
Students protest during Foxconn's annual general meeting in Hong Kong in June 2010.
  • NEW: 150 workers had protested at its Wuhan factory on January 4, Foxconn reports
  • NEW: 45 workers have since chosen to resign
  • Foxconn raised worker pay after a spate of suicides in 2010, Chinese media reported
  • Foxconn's China factories make electronics for Microsoft, Apple and other brands

Beijing (CNN) -- Microsoft is investigating a report that workers at a Chinese plant that manufactures its Xbox game systems have threatened mass suicide in a pay dispute, according to a statement by the company's Hong Kong office.

"Microsoft takes working conditions in the factories that manufacture its products very seriously, and we are currently investigating this issue," the statement said.

CNN has not been able to confirm the full details of the dispute, but Foxconn, the plant owner, and Microsoft did respond to inquiries.

The Chinese contractor acknowledged in a statement Thursday that 150 workers had protested at its Wuhan factory on January 4.

The incident, the company said, stemmed from a decision to transfer all employees to an alternate production line. And though it was later resolved "successfully and peacefully," 45 workers have since chosen to resign.

"The welfare of our employees is our top priority and we are committed to ensuring that all employees are treated fairly and that their rights are fully protected," the company statement said.

Foxconn produces brand-name electronics for companies such as Microsoft and Apple.

A Microsoft spokeswoman later added that the controversy was derived from employee grievances in "staffing assignments and transfer policies, not working conditions."

Overheard: U.S. too dependent on foreign manufacturing

Foxconn apparently offered disgruntled workers the option to transfer or resign, whereby they would receive "all salary and bonuses due, according to length of service," said a Microsoft spokeswoman.

"After the protest, the majority of workers chose to return to work. A smaller portion of those employees elected to resign," the statement said.

Foxconn raised workers' pay twice at its factory in Shenzhen in 2010 after a spate of suicides, Chinese state media reported at the time.

"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's statement added. "Microsoft is committed to the fair treatment and safety of workers employed by our vendors and to ensuring conformance with Microsoft policy."

After the 2010 suicides at Foxconn, the company said it was taking measures to improve workers' lives, including organizing recreational activities, calling in Buddhist monks to offer spiritual consolation and setting up a 24-hour help line.

Foxconn, one of the world's top electronics manufacturers, also makes products for companies such as Dell, Hewlett Packard and Sony.

It employed at estimated 800,000 employees in China in October 2010.

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