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Chinese Teen Labor Taints Microsoft

Preston Gralla 15 Apr 2010
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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.