Microsoft’s Suppliers Face Labor Violations at Chinese Factories

Two Chinese suppliers to the Redmond, Washington-based technology giant Microsoft have been cited for labor-law violations, including excessive overtime and the employment of unregistered and underage workers.

Kunying Computer Products and Xieying Computer Products are both divisions of a parent company, called KYE Systems Corporation and located in the factory town of Dongguan, that were investigated by the Pittsburgh, PA-based National Labor Committee. A report issued by the NLC last week said that the factories, which made computer mice, Web cams and other technology accessories, had hired underage workers and forced them to work for as many as 15 hours a day, six or seven days a week.

The “work study students,” as they were termed by KYE Systems, ranged in age from 16 to 18, with some as young as 14. According to the report, there were over 300 illegally employed workers, and they were paid only between 65 cents and $1 per hour. These abuses have been ongoing for years, alleged the report.

Photographs released with the report showed dorm rooms that held 14 workers in cramped conditions, as well as workers who were clearly exhausted, struggling to keep up with production at their work stations.

Chinese law allows 16- to 18-year-olds to work, but requires them to be registered with local authorities. There are also restrictions placed on their workloads.

Representatives from the Dongguan Municipal Human Resources Bureau inspected the factories briefly following the report, and cited them for employing some 326 unregistered workers, and for forcing them to work overtime hours that were “excessive.” The officials said that in March, employees on production lines at the two subsidiary companies averaged 280 hours worked—far more than the maximum number of work hours allowed by Chinese law, which is 196.

Chinese labor officials said that the KYE factories could face stiff punishments if they do not rectify the issues within two weeks.

A spokesperson for the Taiwan-based KYE Systems denied the allegations and invited auditors to visit the plant.

Microsoft said that it had been conducting audits of its Chinese suppliers’ factories, but that a new audit would occur immediately. In a statement issued last week, the computer company said that it has “rigorous standards in place” and that it would take “appropriate action” if the audit found that those standards were not being met.

The Chinese government has faced criticism for its lax standards and enforcement of labor laws, prompting the country to improve factory conditions and to pass new laws that are more worker-friendly. Nevertheless, labor groups from the United States and other countries regularly publish reports similar to that from the NLC, detailing labor-law violations and unacceptable working environments.

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