19 April 2010 | Nick Martindale
Microsoft is investigating allegations that teenagers were forced to work 15-hour shifts in sweatshop conditions at one of its supplier companies in China.
After an undercover investigation lasting three years, the US National Labor Committee (NLC) claims KYE Systems hired hundreds of 16 and 17-year-olds – and some who looked as young as 14 – to work 15 hours a day, six days a week, making webcams, mice, keyboards and other computer accessories.
The NLC claimed that before the recession, workers were at the factory for 97 hours a week and at work for 80 of those.
Temperatures in the factory would reach 30C during the summer, it asserted, and workers would end up drenched in sweat as they struggled to hit strict production targets.
One man was fined for losing his finger in a hole-punch machine for digital cameras, the NLC report alleged.
It also claimed to have pictures of children asleep on the assembly line during their breaks and that women were sexually harassed by guards.
Workers lived on site in primitive conditions and had little opportunity to leave the compound other than one day a week, it alleged.
Microsoft said it was aware of the report and was investigating conditions at the factory.
“Microsoft is committed to the fair treatment and safety of workers employed by our vendors,” the company said in a statement. “Microsoft has invested heavily in a vendor accountability programme and robust independent third-party auditing programme to ensure conformance to the Microsoft vendor code of conduct.”
It added that suppliers failing to comply with its code would be subject to “corrective action plans, remedial training, certification requirements, cessation of further business awards until corrective actions are instituted, and termination of the business relationship”.
According to the NLC, KYE said “factory conditions are excellent, and that they are in full compliance with China's labour laws”.