Microsoft contractors faulted for illegal labor use

By Lan Tian (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-04-17 10:06
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Microsoft contractors faulted for illegal labor use


This photo, taken on March 16, shows an under-aged laborer taking a nap on the assembly line at a Microsoft contractor factory in Dongguan, Guangdong province.[Agencies]

Companies found hiring hundreds of under-aged, unregistered workers, and forcing them to work overtime

GUANGZHOU - Two Guangdong-based factories contracted to global giant Microsoft have been found guilty of illegal labor practices, including the employment of more than 300 16- to 18-year-old workers without registration. The companies will face administrative penalties if they do not change their work practices to comply with the law, authorities said.

The investigation was launched by the Dongguan human resources bureau, following a report from the United States-based non-profit organization National Labor Committee (NLC). Their report, released Tuesday, detailed long working hours, low pay, insufficient food and few freedoms for young laborers at the KYE Systems Corporation factory in Dongguan, South China's Guangdong province.

Included in the report are claims that 16- and 17-year-olds work 15-hour shifts for about 50 cents an hour. They are prohibited from talking or using the bathroom during work hours, and sleep crammed in 14-person dorm rooms. They are only allowed to leave the factory grounds at certain times, the Associated Press reported on Friday.

Taiwan-based KYE assembles and packages hardware products for Microsoft and other companies.

KYE owns two factories in Dongguan - Kunying Computer Products Company and Xieying Computer Products Company - which employ nearly 4,000 workers, according to Friday's report from the Dongguan human resources bureau, the local labor administration authority.

"We have not found evidence proving the two factories have employed any child laborer younger than 16, but the companies do have some illegal labor practices," said Xie Yanfang, an official from the bureau.

The country's laws prohibit employers from hiring "child laborers" or workers younger than 16. But it allows the employment of "underage workers" - workers aged 16 to 18 - only if the employers register the practice with the local labor administration authority, she said.

The investigation found the two factories have employed 385 underage workers from secondary schools at Sichuan and Guizhou provinces. Among them, 326 have not been registered with the local labor administration authority.

The factories' management failed to give employees a copy of their labor contract, and also forced them to work overtime.

Workers on the production line were forced to work an average of 280 hours in March, much more than the typical 160 hours per month worked by those with 40-hour weeks. The workers did, however, receive salary and overtime pay, and their pay has reached the minimum wage standard of the city.

"The factories have been ordered to rectify these illegal practices within a week, or they will be fined or face other administrative penalties in accordance with law," Xie said.

"We'll closely follow the factories' rectification to safeguard the lawful rights of workers," she said.

Officials at KYE, and the two factories, could not be reached for comment Friday.

"The US organization must have some misunderstanding about the factories. Most of the accusations made by NLC do not exist in the factories, which run according to laws and regulations," said Chen Hongqin, a standing member of the Taiwan Business Association in Dongguan.

"The NLC's report is pure slander," Li Jiongliang, general manager of Kunying, was quoted by Southern Metropolis Daily on Friday. He added that he believes he found the "real intention" of the report on its last two pages. The report said the US unemployed population has reached 22 million, while Microsoft still offers many working opportunities to Chinese workers.

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"The report must have something to do with the Sino-American trade friction," he said.

Microsoft will investigate NLC's reports, said Brian Tobey, a corporate vice president of manufacturing and operations at Microsoft, in a message posted on the company's official blog on Thursday.

A team of independent auditors were headed to the KYE factory, and Microsoft will place monitors at the factory pending results of its inspection, he said.

The world's largest software maker said it has rigorous standards in place for suppliers such as KYE, and those suppliers are audited every year. It also does quarterly onsite assessments and gets weekly reports from KYE about certain labor and safety criteria.