On April 13th, 2010 the National Labor Committee in Support of Human and Worker Rights (NLC), a non-profit that tracks the treatment of foreign workers by U.S. companies, released a scathing report showing evidence of a factory in china engaging in slave-like and child labor. The factory, KYE Systems is contracted by several companies, including Microsoft to build mice, webcams and XBox controllers.
I first learned about this situation from 1up.com’s Matt Clark. I can’t state any better his argument that those of us who enjoy our free time with XBox controllers ought to let Microsoft know we won’t accept these abuses of workers. He summarized observations listed in the report as follows:
- Some "work study students" employed by KYE are only 14 to 15 years old.
- These same youth work upwards of 15-hour days, six to seven days a week for mere change.
- Workers stay in crude, filthy dorms on-site at the factory -- some with as many as 14 workers in one dorm. If they leave at night, they are fined -- then fired.
- Generally, only women are hired at the plant, as management find them easier to control -- and sexually harass.
- Workers are consistently screamed at by supervisors, ordered to answer that they "Feel good", etc.
- Workers have often been forced to work without pay unless they met Microsoft-established production quotas
I recently watched a documentary called Santa’s Workshop (30min) that covers a lot of these same work conditions found in Chinese toy factories. Towards the end it explains that companies (like Best Buy or Microsoft) that contract the factory will say they want the factory to abide by their Codes of Conduct, which are in place to improve work conditions, but will not pay for the additional costs the factory must incur to implement them.
Seattleapi.com contacted Microsoft to ask if they were aware of the work conditions at KYE Systems. Microsoft sent them this response.
“Microsoft is committed to the fair treatment and safety of workers employed by our vendors. Microsoft has invested heavily in a vendor accountability program and robust independent third-party auditing program to ensure conformance to the Microsoft Vendor Code of Conduct.
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.
Actions for non-compliance with our requirements may include corrective action plans, remedial training, certification requirements, cessation of further business awards until corrective actions are instituted, and termination of the business relationship. We unequivocally support taking immediate actions to address non compliant activities.”
However, when a company like Microsoft says they do on-site audits, the documentary shows that they are often duped into believing everything is A-OK because the workers are paid bonuses for lying to the auditors about their work conditions.
On April 19th, the Chinese Dongguan Municipal Human Resources Bureau did cite a couple of KYE Systems’ owned factories for violations of employment law. One violation was failing to register child workers (under 18yrs of age) and forcing them to work excessive overtime. No penalties have been announced, but the labor officials gave KYE Systems two weeks to resolve the violations. The two week deadline is this May 3rd.
It will be interesting to see what happens. Matt Clark started a petition to rally gamers against these abusive work conditions, however to date it only has 343 signatures. Given the deceptive practices of the factories themselves, greater pressure from Western consumers will need to be applied if there is any hope for the appalling work conditions and pay to be improved for Chinese factory workers.