NEWS

Chinese Teen Labor Taints Microsoft

Apr 16, 2010 10:58 AM

Preston Gralla

chinese-workers_original.jpg

A National Labor Committee report found that Chinese teens and young adults work up to 15 hours a day, are paid 65 cents per hours, and are essentially held prisoner in a Chinese factory that makes hardware for Microsoft and other companies.

The report details working conditions at the KYE Systems factory in the south of China. (You can download the report in its entirety here.) It says that a variety of Microsoft products are manufactured at the factory, including the Microsoft "Life Cam VX-7000," "Basic Optical Mouse" and "Wireless Notebook Laser Mouse 6000." It says that Microsoft began outsourcing to KYE beginning in 2003, and that Microsoft is the factory's biggest customer. Other customers, the report says, includes Hewlett Packard, Best Buy, Samsung, Foxconn, Acer, Wi/IFC/Logitech and Asus-Rd.

The report describes prison-like working conditions, long hours, and low pay, and quotes one teen worker as saying, "We are like prisoners...We do not have a life, only work."

Here are just a few of the findings, taken word for word from the report's executive summary:

  • KYE recruits hundreds-even up to 1,000-"work study students" 16 and 17 years of age, who work 15-hour shifts, six and seven days a week. In 2007 and 2008, dozens of the work study students were reported to be just 14 and 15 years old. A typical shift is from 7:45 a.m. to 10:55 p.m.
  • Along with the work study students-most of whom stay at the factory three months, though some remain six months or longer-KYE prefers to hire women 18 to 25 years of age, since they are easier to discipline and control.
  • In 2007 and 2008, before the worldwide recession, workers were at the factory 97 hours a week while working 80 1/2 hours. In 2009, workers report being at the factory 83 hours a week, while working 68 hours.
  • Workers are paid 65 cents an hour, which falls to a take-home wage of 52 cents after deductions for factory food.
  • Workers are prohibited from talking, listening to music or using the bathroom during working hours. As punishment, workers who make mistakes are made to clean the bathrooms.
  • Security guards sexually harass the young women.
  • Fourteen workers share each primitive dorm room, sleeping on narrow double-level bunk beds. To "shower," workers fetch hot water in a small plastic bucket to take a sponge bath. Workers describe factory food as awful.
  • Not only are the hours long, but the work pace is grueling as workers race frantically to complete their mandatory goal of 2,000 Microsoft mice per shift. During the long summer months
    when factory temperatures routinely reach 86 degrees, workers are drenched in sweat.
  • There is no freedom of movement and workers can only leave the factory compound during regulated hours.
  • The workers have no rights, as every single labor law in China is violated. Microsoft's and other companies' codes of conduct have zero impact.

As soon as the report was released, Microsoft began looking into the allegations. Seattlepi.com contacted Microsoft about the report, and received this message:

We are aware of the NLC report and we have commenced an investigation. We take these claims seriously, and we will take appropriate remedial measures in regard to any findings of vendor misconduct.

Actions for non-compliance with our requirements may include corrective action plans, remedial training, certification requirements, cessation of further business awards until corrective actions are instituted, and termination of the business relationship. We unequivocally support taking immediate actions to address non-compliant activities."

Microsoft is not alone in facing labor problems in China; Apple and other companies have similar issues. Both Microsoft and Apple have, on paper, good policies for making sure this kind of thing doesn't happen. But paper is one thing, and the real world another. As long as China is used as a key outsourcer, the problems will recur.

ALSO READ

Smartphones are evil: 11 weird Google Suggest results, and what they tell us about tech in 2014

Google Suggest is a feature that sees the search engine trying to complete a search query as you type words into the search engine's text box. Suggestions are meant to be helpful - but they can sometimes be funny, bizarre, or downright creepy.

Netflix raises fees, watches membership rise in second quarter

Netflix's quarterly numbers are in, and they're looking good. The streaming video service's paid subscriber base grew to a shade under 48 million users during the second quarter. And Netflix says it's topped the 50 million mark for total membership.

Meet We Heart It, the teen social network that brands are watching

Social networks that appeal to women are written off as silly time-wasters (see: Pinterest), and ones that appeal to young girls are taken even less seriously. That's how 7-year-old We Heart It has flown under the radar for all this time, despite amassing millions of users and several high-profile advertisers.

Qplay streaming service to shut down July 25

Sometimes, something that seems like a good idea just doesn't catch on. Streaming video service Qplay is the latest such example: The company announced Saturday that it would close up shop on July 25th.

By the numbers: How Kindle Unlimited compares to other ebook subscriptions

At first blush, Amazon's new Kindle Unlimited book service sounds like a great deal. For $10 a month, U.S. residents get unlimited access to 600,000 ebooks (and 2,000-plus audiobooks), all readable using Amazon's Kindle app. In addition to Amazon's own devices, the Kindle app works on iPhones, iPads, Android devices, and Windows Phones.

Expert Opinion

staff-picks-instaweather-100355967-orig_500.png

Our favorite iOS Apps, July edition

As we do every month, Macworld staffers got together to chat about the best apps they've been using recently. Here are some that have recently captured our imaginations (and perhaps a spot on our homescreens), whether they're tiny apps from budding developers or the top-grossing apps that everyone is using. Our hope is that, while you might recognize some of these apps, others you might never have encountered. All of them, we think, are worth a look.

nadella_3_build_2014-100259277-orig_500.jpg

Microsoft's productivity drive could kill software as we know it

On Thursday, Satya Nadella charted a new course for Microsoft, focused on interconnectivity and productivity--one where, conceivably, the company's standard-setting Office applications and other products and services could slowly blur into different modes of working with the same data.

ddr4_corsair2-100313933-orig_500.png

All about DDR4, the next-gen memory coming soon for PCs and mobile devices

New CPU and GPU architectures roil the market pretty much every year--sometimes more than once a year. Yet in spite of the impact that system memory can have on a PC's performance, the industry has relied on the same basic memory architecture for what seems like an eternity--in tech time, at least.

wwdc14_homekit_honeywell-100308020-orig_500.png

Apple's HomeKit hub may already be in your house

At Apple's recent Worldwide Developers Conference, the company announced--among a great many other things--HomeKit, a suite of tools for controlling such devices in your home as thermostats, furnaces and air conditioners, smart appliances, lights, cameras, garage-door openers, and security systems. Apple will provide a platform that these devices will be asked to conform to. Do so, and you can control them all from your iOS device.

Editors Pick

fadell-nest-100254262-orig_500.jpg

Apple doesn't need its own gadgets to dominate the smart home

If you believe the weekend rumors, Apple will announce a connected-home platform next week at WWDC. But before you get too excited about an iThermostat and an iFridge and an iCamera watching you sleep, consider this: If Apple does get into the home-automation market, that doesn't necessarily mean it'll make smart-home gadgets of its own.

surface2_8-100066518-orig_500.jpg

10 things we want to see in Microsoft's Surface Mini

If Microsoft indeed intends to release a shrunk-down Surface Mini this month, as an invite for a "small" Surface event suggests, merely downsizing the tablet's design to fit an 8-inch frame ain't going to cut it. Sure, the Surface Pro 2 and Surface 2 are beautiful pieces of kit, but they're made for big-screen productivity--the Surface Pro is essentially an Ultrabook without a keyboard. That experience won't translate well to a smaller form factor, better suited for content consumption than content creation.

new-lumia_8-100048944-orig_500.jpg

With this phone, I thee wed: How the Nokia-Microsoft union changes everything

There's no getting cold feet now. On Friday, Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia's device business will be official, after months of delays and regulatory hurdles. The remnants of Nokia will get a whopping $7.2 billion. In return, Microsoft will get 32,000 new employees, a legion of Lumias, and oh yeah, those funky Android-based Nokia X phones.

Latest Product Reviews

mediabeam-opener-100356471-orig_500.jpg

MediaBeam: This ultra-cheap streaming stick isn't worth the money

Just what the world needs: another HDMI dongle to compete with Google's Chromecast and Roku's Streaming Stick. Like those popular devices, Ematic's MediaBeam plugs directly into one of your HDTV's HDMI ports in order to stream content.

gearliverainbow-100356115-orig_500.jpg

Samsung Gear Live: It's the world's best smartwatch, but probably not for long

The Gear Live is the best smartwatch I've ever used--but that's not a remarkable achievement considering all the crappy-to-middling efforts we've seen from Samsung, Sony and Qualcomm. If I were being generous, I'd say Samsung finally landed on a simple, wrist-friendly interface that does away with messy nested menus and convoluted features like voice calling.

oneplusone_9211-100356012-orig_500.jpg

OnePlus One: You're in control with this ultra-affordable phone

There's a utopian idea behind the OnePlus One: Offer a phone powered by the latest hardware and featuring a wealth of carrier options without any carrier restrictions. If that doesn't grab you, the price tag might--it's $300 for an off-contract 16GB model, about half of what you'd pay for phones boasting similar specs. But does the phone deliver a premium experience?

app-factoryscreensnapz001-100355394-orig_500.png

App Factory 1.2: Turn your script into a stand-alone app

Editor's note: The following review is part of Macworld's GemFest 2014. Every day (except weekends) from July until September, the Macworld staff will use the Mac Gems blog to briefly cover a standout free, low-cost, or great-value program. You can view a list of this year's apps, updated daily, on our handy GemFest chart, and you can visit the Mac Gems homepage for past Mac Gems reviews.