Monday, April 19, 2010

Microsoft accused of abusive working conditions in China supplier factory

Two weeks ago I wrote on this blog how eager Microsoft was to expand buisness in China taking advantage of Google's decision to exit. This week is about activists discovering substandard working conditions in a Microsoft supplier factory in China.

The National Labour Committee, a US-based labour rights campaigner, said in a report last week that it found abusive working conditions in KYE Systems Corp, a Taiwanese-owned factory in Dongguan, China. KYE factory has been making products for Microsoft, its largest buyer, since 2003 including Microsoft Life Cam VX-7000; Basic Optical Mouse and Wireless Notebook Laser Mouse 6000, according to the report.

Other customers of KYE include Hewlett Packard, Best Buy, Samsung, Foxconn, Acer, Wi/IFC/Logitech and Asus-Rd.

The NLC report resulted from a three-year investigation into working conditions in the factory which also produced a number of pictures secretly shipped out from the site.

The report alleges that:
KYE recruits hundreds of "work-study" students 16 and 17 years of age, who work 15-hour shifts, six and seven days a week making webcams, mice and other computer peripherals. Some of the workers appear to be just 14 or 15 years old.

Along with the students, KYE prefers to hire only women 18 to 25 years old, who are considered easier to discipline and control.

Workers report that before the recession, they were at the factory 97 hours a week, while working 80 ½ hours. In 2009, workers were at the factory 83 hours a week, while toiling 68 hours.

Workers are paid 65 cents an hour, which falls to a take-home wage of 52 cents an hour after deductions for factory food.

Workers have to report early, unpaid, for military-like drills. Management controls every second of their lives.

The work pace is grueling as workers race to complete their mandatory goal of 2000 Microsoft mice per shift. During the long summer, factory temperatures reach 86 degrees and the workers are drenched in sweat.

Security guards sexually harass the young women. Workers are prohibited from talking, listening to music or going to the bathroom during working hours. Freedom of movement is restricted and workers can only leave the factory compound during regulated hours.

Fourteen workers share each primitive, dirty dorm room, sleeping on narrow bunk beds. To "shower" workers fetch hot water in a small plastic bucket for a sponge bath. Workers report that the food is awful.

See the full report here.

Microsoft, embarassed by the expose, has said it is sending factory auditors to investigate the matter. The factory owners have denied all allegations.

Hope the episode will result in Microsoft taking some solid steps to prevent such allegations in the future. The company will need to be completely transparent about what it finds during own investigations at the factory and how it plans to fix the problem.

Promoting sexting?
The week was tough on Microsoft, really. Apart from being accused of abusive working conditions in China, the technology giant was attacked by another set of activists who said the advertising campaign for the company's just launched Kin line of phones was promoting sexting among young people. See the promotional video here which has offended people.

Microsoft was quick to say it was withdrawing the ad.

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