Microsoft Supplier Factory Workers Live "Like Prisoners"

This you should know: There is a good chance that the gadgets you use every day were manufactured by workers who are miserable. This fact has ensnared Apple (and others) on numerous occasions, and now it's Microsoft's turn.

A report by the National Labour Committee hones in on conditions at a factory, run by a company called KYE, which produces hardware (mice, webcams and some Xbox components) for Microsoft, as well as components for Hewlett Packard, Best Buy, Samsung, Foxconn, Acer, Logitech and Asus, albeit on a smaller scale. They've also got their own brand, called Genius, which you've probably seen in the bargain bin at K-Mart once or twice. The conditions - supported by photographic, not just anecdotal evidence - sound downright horrendous:

• Workers are hired as "work study students" as young as 16 years of age

• They work extremely long shifts, typically "from 7:45 a.m. to 10:55 p.m", for $US0.65/hr, less food deductions. (Actual wage: $US0.52/hr.)

• As is common in large manufacturing operations in China, the workers live onsite:

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.

• Workers are kept from leaving campus, except during designated hours

• There are reports of sexual harassment of female workers by male security guards

To their credit, Microsoft responded to the report almost immediately, telling the Seattle PI:

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.

What's most worrying isn't just that one factory is treating its workers this way, it's that in all likelihood, there are many factories treating their workers this way, which won't end up the subject of an extensive report by a human rights organisation.

Horror stories from Foxconn are nothing new, and bear a striking resemblance to what we're hearing about KYE. It's clear that manufacturers can get away with stuff like this in China, and it's just as clear that major electronics companies find it easy to either ignore, or remain blissfully ignorant of, what's going on in the factories they pay to build their hardware. And if we know this - and honestly, we do - we're as complicit as they are. [National labour Committee]