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Factories Building XBOX Controllers Abuse Workers
by Reid Kimball on 05/03/10 07:00:00 am   Expert Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

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’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. 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.



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Andrew Esswein
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I lived in China and not all factories are like this. One time in Wenzhou I met a factory worker and spoke with him in Chinese. Factory workers do usually have live-in conditions with at least one meal a day. This factory worker had time off at night to play games in the nearby internet bar. I've seen studies that show that many young factory workers spend their hard earned cash on entertainment. Since the factory pays for their living expenses they are able to use their monthly salary on whatever they want.

After spending a whole week in a run down factory and dirty dormatory what you really crave is some entertainment.

If a 15 yr old is working at a factory it's because they decided to drop out of school and work to help their family. That's usually their own decision and they probally begged for the job. We have 15yr olds as Mac Donalds slaves.

With 800RMB (low factory pay) Food for a month costs 200 rmb - Phone expense 50rmb - 200 back home to family ... the rest usually goes to clothes and entertainment. I've even heard of factory workers who take their whole check and blow it in one night at the club or KTV.

If Microsoft wants to improve factory - worker relations sponsoring a corperate party or offering factory english lessons would be enough to imrpove worker moral.

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I'm a bit disappointed by the 2 other posts. I know that poor areas rely on these sorts of jobs for income but if paying $5 or $10 more for a controller means that the people who make our gaming hardware have a civilized quality of life, I can't imagine why the gaming community wouldn't support it. Granted, Microsoft is by no means alone in this practice (far, far from it) but these are real people we're talking about and it's our purchases that make it all happen.

Dana Fortier
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@Andre and Andrew:

Douglas Rae
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I think the wording is wrong; this is more exploitation, not abuse (apart from the shouting and sexual harassment, which I am sure Microsoft would not encourage / is not part of the production company's policy) - welcome to the real world.

Janne Haffer
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"At one point, not that long ago, we were a 'sweatshop' nation. But we organized and fought our own battles. Everyone else has to do the same thing."

Excuses to make you feel okay about not caring.

Local fights worked in the past just because they were local. Now it is infinitely much harder for workers to organize in that manner because as you said, the global economy.

With people like you (i assume from the tone of your post) being happy with buying products from places that violate labor laws, whereas you would never do it if the factory was in the US and the workers were American.

It is possible for buyers of goods (like microsoft) to make sure the working conditions at the production sites are decent and not violating labor laws, it's being done in many other places and is a vital part of making capitalism work for people and not just the factory owners.