'We are like prisoners. It seems like we live only to work'
By Ray Lane & KOMO Staff
An overseas company that conducts business with Microsoft is accused of hiring underpaid teenagers to work in grueling conditions, often for 12 hours at a time, to make computer-related products in their factory in China.
Story Published: Apr 15, 2010 at 7:25 AM PDT
Story Updated: Apr 15, 2010 at 7:25 AM PDT
Comments (49)SEATTLE -- An overseas company that conducts business with Microsoft is accused of hiring underpaid teenagers to make computer products.
The company in question is based in Taiwan, but the KYE factory is located in Dongguan City in China. The National Labor Committee, a U.S. labor group, issued a report that states the company's hired teenagers have been working horribly long hours in difficult conditions for very little pay.
The organization alleges Microsoft has been dealing with the owner of the computer mouse factory where workers earn 65 cents an hour, or $1,164.39 a year.
It is estimated more than 5,000 people worked at the factory at one point, many of them as young as 16 and 17 years old. The report states the workers perform the same motion over and over, often for 12 hours at a time, and must obtain permission to use the restroom or drink water.
Photographs obtained by the Pittsburgh-based group captured some of them sleeping at their workplaces during a 10-minute break.
The report quotes one young employee, who works more than 16 hours a day, who said, "Many people are fighting to keep from dozing off. To reduce my sleepiness, every once and a while I switch off between working while sitting and standing.
"Even the standing up and sitting down doesn't seem to help me throw off my exhaustion. Many of my coworkers begin to nod at this time, and I imagine that they feel the same way as I do. If we could only talk to each other, we might be able to stay awake. But the foreman forbids us from talking to one another," the worker said, according to the report.
The workers live in dormitories and their meals are deducted from their wages.
"For the approximately 300 people on each floor, there are two public restrooms on either end of the floor, each with ten bathroom stalls; ten sinks with cold water; five cold water spigots where workers can wash their clothes by hand; and three hot water spigots where workers fetch hot water in a small plastic bucket to take a sponge bath," the report states.
Workers are banned from staying outside the factory compound overnight, the report said, and those who break the rule are fined more than a week's pay and immediately fired.
"We are like prisoners," one worker told NLC. "It seems like we live only to work. We do not work to live. We do not live a life, only work."
The NLC cites one worker, who was fined for losing a finger while operating a hole punch press machine on the job. The man was rushed to the hospital, however, management later "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," the report said.
The report says Microsoft accounts for a third of the work done at the factory, which also makes products for Hewlett-Packard.
Microsoft issued the following statement on Wednesday: "Microsoft is committed to the fair treatment and safety of workers employed by our vendors. We are aware of the NLC report, and we have commenced an investigation."
Microsoft says it takes the claims seriously, and the company will take the appropriate remedial measures in regard to any findings of vendor misconduct.
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