A report condemning Microsoft for using Chinese suppliers who employ children in sweatshop conditions to make its hardware products has recently surfaced.
The factory itself manufactures goods for a variety of clients, with Microsoft said to be their largest customer. Amongst other things, they reportedly make controllers for the Xbox 360 and many of Microsoft’s hardware products.
The extremely lengthy report, which it should be noted displays strong union sympathies and is published by a leftist group with decidedly unrealistic expectations of what to expect from working in a developing country, summarises facts about the workers at Microsoft’s factory:
- KYE recruits hundreds-even up to 1,000-“work study students” 16 and 17 years of age, who work 15-hour shifts, six and seven days a week. In 2007 and 2008, dozens of the work study students were reported to be just 14 and 15 years old. A typical shift is from 7:45 a.m. to 10:55 p.m.
- In 2007 and 2008, before the worldwide recession, workers were at the factory 97 hours a week while working 80 ½ hours. In 2009, workers report being at the factory 83 hours a week, while working 68 hours.
- Workers are paid 65 cents an hour, which falls to a take-home wage of 52 cents after deductions for factory food.
- Workers are prohibited from talking, listening to music or using the bathroom during working hours. As punishment, workers who make mistakes are made to clean the bathrooms.
- Fourteen workers share each primitive dorm room, sleeping on narrow double-level bunk beds. To “shower,” workers fetch hot water in a small plastic bucket to take a sponge bath. Workers describe factory food as awful.
- Not only are the hours long, but the work pace is grueling as workers race frantically to complete their mandatory goal of 2,000 Microsoft mice per shift. During the long summer months when factory temperatures routinely reach 86 degrees, workers are drenched in sweat.
- The workers have no rights, as every single labor law in China is violated. Microsoft’s and other companies’ codes of conduct have zero impact.
Pictures smuggled out from the factory over the years demonstrate working conditions:
Other objections raised are clearly grasping at straws however – the report whines that workers “cannot use their cell phones whilst working,” “have to seek permission to leave the assembly line,” “must trim their fingernails so as not to impede production,” “are searched when they leave the factory,” “are publicly scolded by foremen,” etc.
Just whether the author actually has any idea what is really entailed in factory work, whether in the developed or developing world, is rather questionable in light of such spurious objections.
Of course, although this case specifically singles out Microsoft, such labour conditions form the basis of China’s manufacturing success and most companies outsourcing manufacturing to China can be expected to be employing workers under similar conditions at some stage in their production process.
Ethical quandaries such as whether it is proper for consumers to support such sweatshops in their desire for cheap goods, or indeed whether it is proper to deny poor Chinese the chance at lifting themselves out of poverty by satisfying the developed world’s need for cheap labour, are all uncertain subjective issues, but what is certain is that Microsoft has something of a PR disaster on its hands with this.