Microsoft Investigates Report Of Abused Workers

Long hours, low wages, and poor working conditions have been documented at factory in China.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

April 15, 2010

2 Min Read

A report on the working conditions at a factory in China run by KYE, which makes products for Microsoft and other companies, has prompted Microsoft to look into its supplier's labor practices.

The report, published by the National Labor Committee, recounts a litany of worker abuse, from 15 hours shifts, to take-home wages that average $1.20 per day, to petty restrictions, fines, inadequate food, and physical and mental abuse.

The report says that KYE recruits large numbers "work-study" students, most of whom are 16 to 17, and some of whom are believed to be 14 or 15 -- too young to work under Chinese law.

One worker, the report notes, was fined the equivalent of $29.26 after accidentally chopping of his index finger because management determined that he had violated regulations related to the operation of the punch press machine.

The report has gotten the attention of Microsoft's management.

"As a result of this report, we have a team of independent auditors en route to the facility to conduct a complete and thorough investigation," said Microsoft VP of manufacturing and operations Brian Tobey in an online post. "If we find that the factory is not adhering to our standards, we will take appropriate action."

It remains to be seen whether a public declaration of this sort will help. According to the report, foreknowledge of a previous local government inspection allowed KYE to conceal young workers from inspectors.

"When management was alerted ahead of time that there was going to be a local government inspection, all the work study students under 18 years of age were gathered in the courtyard where they would board buses to be taken to another location and held until the inspection was over," the report says.

Tobey says that Microsoft takes very seriously its corporate responsibility to ensure that its manufacturing facilities and suppliers comply with labor and safety requirements and treat workers fairly.

Over the past two years, as a result of Microsoft's Social and Environmental Accountability (SEA) program, he says no incidence of child labor has been detected. He also says that overtime has been reduced and that wages are in line with industry norms.

Microsoft is not alone in confronting claims that its suppliers treat their workers poorly. In March, Apple, as part of its corporate responsibility disclosure, said that some of its foreign suppliers had employed underage workers at their facilities and that some had hired noncertified hazardous waste disposal companies.

Microsoft accounts for about 30% of KYE's business. Other clients include Acer, Asus-Rd, Best Buy, Foxconn, Hewlett Packagd, Samsung, and Wi/IFC/Logitech.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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