Microsoft has promised to investigate allegations of massive labor violations at a Chinese factory building its products, as detailed in an April 13 report by the National Labor Committee, a nonprofit non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to drawing attention to labor and human rights abuses.
"Over the past three years, unprecedented photographs of exhausted teenaged workers, toiling and slumping asleep on their assembly line during break time, have been smuggled out of the KYE factory" in Dongguan City, reads the introduction to the National Labor Committee's report. "Workers are paid 65 cents an hour, which falls to a take-home wage of 52 cents after deductions for factory food."
The report, entitled "China's Youth Meet Microsoft," can be found here.
Workers at the KYE factory are apparently prevented from talking, listening to music, or using the bathroom during their shift-while also enduring harassment by security guards, lack of air conditioning during the hotter months, 15-hour shifts and restricted freedom of movement.
The report quotes an unnamed worker saying, "We are like prisoners."
Microsoft has apparently been outsourcing production, including the fabrication of PC cameras and a variety of optical and wireless mice, to the KYE factory since 2003. Other clients of the facility include Hewlett-Packard, Acer and Best Buy.
"Microsoft is committed to the fair treatment and safety of workers employed by our vendors," a Microsoft spokesperson wrote in an email to eWEEK April 14. "Microsoft has invested heavily in a vendor accountability program and robust independent third-party auditing program to ensure conformance with the Microsoft Vendor Code of Conduct."
Having been made aware of the NLC report, Microsoft says that it has commenced an investigation. "We take these claims seriously, and we will take appropriate remedial measures in regard to any findings of vendor misconduct," the spokesperson wrote. Those remedial measures could apparently include remedial training and termination of the actual business relationship.
However, the report documents a number of these factory conditions extending back to at least 2007, when it suggests that Microsoft and other companies declined to vocally support changes in China's labor contract laws that would have deeded rights such as severance pay and signed contracts to workers. One might ask why Microsoft's "vendor accountability program" and "robust independent third-party auditing program" failed to uncover the operating conditions at the KYE factory.
Other tech companies routinely audit suppliers and manufacturers for potential human-rights and labor-law abuses. In a 2009 audit, Apple found 17 violations of its Code of Conduct, including the use of underage workers, in a review of 102 facilities. However, that oversight failed to prevent controversy over conditions at Apple iPhone and iPod manufacturer Foxconn, which included allegations of abuse leading to the suicide of an engineer in July 2009.