Microsoft says it has launched an investigation into labor practices at a Chinese factory following a report alleging the vendor used large numbers of teenagers working in harsh conditions for low pay to build the company's mice and other products.
The investigation follows a report from the Pittsburgh-based National Labor Committee that found the KYE facility in Dongguan City, Guangdong, China allegedly uses significant amounts of teenage labor and has workers laboring as much as 80.5 hours a week for wages that amount to just over 50 cents an hour in take-home pay.
"We are like prisoners," one worker told the NLC, according to the report. "It seems like we live only to work. We do not work to live. We do not live a life, only work."
Workers are required to make 2,000 mice during a 12-hour shift, the report said and are prohibited from using the bathroom or getting up to drink water other than during their 10-minute, unpaid, breaks. I won't try to summarize everything that is in the report, but it's pretty rough stuff and worth a read. The NLC also posted on Flickr a collection of photos said to be from the plant.
"We are aware of the NLC report, and we have commenced an investigation," Microsoft said in a statement. "We take these claims seriously, and we will take appropriate remedial measures in regard to any findings of vendor misconduct."
The company said it "is committed to the fair treatment and safety of workers employed by our vendors" and said it works to ensure all vendors uphold its code of conduct. Microsoft declined to say how long it has used KYE as a contractor or comment beyond its statement.
Among the provisions in Microsoft's code of conduct (PDF) is one that says contractors must "comply with all local and national minimum working age laws or regulations and not utilize child labor."
"Vendors cannot employ anyone under the age of 15, under the age for completing compulsory education or under the legal minimum working age for employment, whichever is oldest," the code reads. "Microsoft only supports the development of legitimate workplace apprenticeship programs for the educational benefit of younger people and will not do business with those who abuse such systems. Workers under the age of 18 cannot perform hazardous work and may be restricted from night work, with consideration given to educational needs."
Microsoft is not the only company to use KYE to make its goods, although the report says workers estimate Microsoft accounts for 30 percent of the company's business. KYE also makes hardware for companies including Hewlett-Packard, Best Buy, Samsung, and Acer, according to the NLC.
And other U.S. companies have come under fire for conditions at vendors in China and elsewhere that make their products. In 2006, for example, Apple launched a probe into conditions at a factory that makes the company's iPods.
The NLC report was noted earlier by SeattlePI.com.