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Chinese Microsoft Workers Overworked, Underpaid

April 19, 2010

Workers in Chinese sweatshops making products for Microsoft and other companies are being mistreated, according to an investigation by a human rights organization.

The DailyMail reports that employees work harsh 15-hour shifts in 86 degree heat earning as little as 83 cents an hour. Most workers fall asleep during their ten-minute breaks. Employees work six or seven days a week making computer mice and webcams for Microsoft.

Mostly women, between the ages 18 and 25, work in the shops. Their day starts at 7:45 am and ends at 10:55 pm. Sometimes, as many as 1,000 workers are crammed into a single room just 105 by 105 feet.

Workers are not allowed to socialize or listen to music, and are forced to eat poor quality meals served by the factory cafeterias. They are not allowed any bathroom breaks during the shift and must clean toilets as discipline, according to the National Labor Committee, a human rights organization which campaigns for workers around the world.

The NLC spent three years investigating the sweatshops. Included in the investigation was the KYE Systems factory in Dongguan, China where the current information is taken from.

Workers in the shops also are required to sleep on site in dormitories with 14 workers per room. Workers must buy their own mattress and bedding, or sleep on 28-inch-wide plywood boards. Bathing is allowed, but using only a sponge and bucket.

Many of the workers, because they are young women, are regularly sexually harassed as well, claims the NLC. The human rights organization also said one worker was fined for losing his finger while operating a hole punch press.

Microsoft, although not the only company to outsource manufacturing to KYE, accounts for about 30 percent of the work at the factory, the NLC said. Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Logitech and Acer are among the other companies that use KYE Systems.

Microsoft is taking the claims seriously and claims it has begun its own investigation.

An employee at the KYE Systems factory told NLC that they are like prisoners. They have no life, only work. Many of the workers have very monotonous jobs, doing the same thing hour after hour, day after day, and many are sleep deprived.

Many choose to work overtime, despite exhaustion, to earn enough money to support their families. Those who put in regular hours get by with a mere 770 Yuan ($112 USD) per month.

Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the NLC, said: “It sounded like torture – the frantic pace on the assembly line, same motion over and over for the 12 hours or more of work they did.”

Microsoft said it is committed to the “fair treatment and safety of workers”. A spokesman for the company acknowledged the NLC report and said the company has commenced an investigation. “We take these claims seriously and we will take appropriate remedial measures in regard to any findings of misconduct,” the spokesman said.

Image Caption: Chinese workers making products for Microsoft and other companies are required to work long hours and earn as little as 83 cents an hour.

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