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article imageMicrosoft workers in China: 'We are like prisoners' Special

By David Silverberg     Apr 14, 2010 in World
Dongguan - A Chinese factory making Microsoft peripherals violates every single labor law in China, according to a new report from the National Labor Committee. KYE factory workers toil away 12 hours a day Monday through Friday and earn 43 cents an hour.
"We are like prisoners," one worker at KYE Factory told the NLC, according to the report. "It seems like we live only to work. We do not work to live. We do not live a life, only work."
That is one of the many statements casting a cloud over Microsoft's labor practices. Microsoft has been outsourcing production to the KYE factory since at least 2003, the NLC found, and the factory often makes peripherals such as mice, keyboards and webcams.
Released yesterday, NLC's report titled China's Youth Meet Microsoft explains daily working conditions: Twenty or thirty workers on a line must complete 2,000 Microsoft mice in 12 hours. The workers' hands and fingers are constantly moving, many suffering abrasions and cuts, since the connectors must be inserted very closely together.
The report goes on to quote several workers, who offer an inside perspective on working at KYE in Dongguan City, Guangdong, China. One employee states: "We are ordered around and told what to do and what not to do. No one in management has ever asked us about anything. There is no discussion. You feel no respect."
What about shifts? Fifteen-hour shifts are not uncommon, the report alleges, and staff are "prohibited from talking, listening to music or using the bathroom during working hours."
The report, compiled with interviews and photographs from the past three years, found that the majority of KYE's 2,000 workers were between 16 and 18 years old.
The cafeteria food is another problem, one worker says: "The food tastes awful and completely takes away our appetite." The portions are limited to the size of an ice cream scoop, and a portion of their wages are allotted for food.
The NLC also relates a story about a worker who accidentally chopped off his finger using a hole punch press machine: Management did rush him to the hospital for emergency treatment. However, after an investigation, management determined that the worker had disobeyed regulations related to operating the punch press machine, so the worker was fined 200 RMB ($29.26) and fired!
A KYE employee in China working on a technology product
A KYE employee in China working on a technology product
National Labor Committee
Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the National Labor Committee, told in an interview they were able to verify statements made by factory workers by sourcing various stories from more than one worker. "Communication went back and forth between us and the KYE workers, but for the safety of these workers I can't reveal any more details," he said.
Microsoft responded to the NLC report, saying in a statement: "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."
A teen worker at the KYE factory in China assembling a technology product
A teen worker at the KYE factory in China assembling a technology product
National Labor Committee
Kernaghan believes this report isn't news to Microsoft. The NLC knows Microsoft's quality-control officials have visited the factory within the past seven years, he says. "Microsoft hides many factories across the's a game, a scam, because in China there is no freedom or human rights groups to protect workers."
Kernaghan wants Microsoft to adopt the same code of conduct it applies to those who try to steal its software. "It has a policy to guard against counterfeit software, but what about its workers across the world? Can't they protect the teens making their products? They would say 'no' because in their mind that would impede fair trade."
Microsoft isn't the only company serviced by KYE (although it accounts for 30 percent of the factory's business). Hewlett Packard, Samsung, Best Buy, Foxconn, Acer, Logitech, and other US companies are also clients.
The NLC is known for going after major corporations it believes have unfair labour practices. The NLC famously found how Kathie Lee's clothing line for Walmart was made in Honduran sweat shops in 1996.
More about Microsoft, China, Sweatshop, Labour committee
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