A damning report from the National Labor Committe, released earlier this week, has highlighted atrocious working conditions at Chinese company KYE Systems Corp, which among other things manufactures control pads for the Xbox 360.
The NLC's report claims that KYE, an electronics manufacturer that supplies hardware for companies like Microsoft (the firm's biggest single customer), Hewlett-Packard, Samsung and Best Buy, is home to some wretched work practices, including:
* Over the past three years, unprecedented photographs of exhausted teenaged workers, toiling and slumping asleep on their assembly line during break time, have been smuggled out of the KYE 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.
* Along with the work study students-most of whom stay at the factory three months, though some remain six months or longer-KYE prefers to hire women 18 to 25 years of age, since they are easier to discipline and control.
* 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.
* Security guards sexually harass the young women.
*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.
*There is no freedom of movement and workers can only leave the factory compound during regulated hours.
* 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.
Look, I'm not going to climb up on some moral high horse about this. As I type this, for example, I'm wearing a football shirt and pair of Nike sneakers that were both made in China, most likely under similar conditions. There are places for discussions on this kind of thing, and I don't think here is one of them.
Just, next time you pick up a 360 controller and wonder what goes into making it...well, now you know.
In Microsoft's defence, it's launched an investigation into the conditions at KYE, telling a Seattle newspaper:
Microsoft is committed to the fair treatment and safety of workers employed by our vendors. Microsoft has invested heavily in a vendor accountability program and robust independent third-party auditing program to ensure conformance to the Microsoft Vendor Code of Conduct.
We are aware of the NLC report and we have commenced an investigation. We take these claims seriously, and we will take appropriate remedial measures in regard to any findings of vendor misconduct.
Actions for non-compliance with our requirements may include corrective action plans, remedial training, certification requirements, cessation of further business awards until corrective actions are instituted, and termination of the business relationship. We unequivocally support taking immediate actions to address non compliant activities.