Microsoft sending labor inspectors to China factory

Seattle Post Intelligencer (blog)  |  April 15, 2010  |  Link to article

After a labor group's allegations that Microsoft hardware workers are mistreated at a Chinese factory, Microsoft announced Thursday that is it sending inspectors to the KYE Systems facility in Dongguan. was first to report the National Labor Committee's allegations Tuesday, which suggested Chinese workers, mostly women aged 18 to 25, are made to work long hours at low wages, without bathroom breaks, music or talking. In a statement, Microsoft said it had opened an investigation into the charges.

Brian Tobey, corporate vice president for manufacturing and operations in Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, wrote about Microsoft's response on the company's official blog. He noted that "we take very seriously our corporate responsibility to ensure that the manufacturing facilities and supply chain operations that we use comply with all relevant labor and safety requirements and ensure fair treatment of workers."

We were therefore very concerned when we saw a report by the National Labor Committee (NLC) alleging that conditions at a factory operated by KYE in Dongguan, China, were adversely impacting workers. KYE assembles and packages hardware products for Microsoft and a wide range of other companies.

As a result of this report, we have a team of independent auditors en route to the facility to conduct a complete and thorough investigation. If we find that the factory is not adhering to our standards, we will take appropriate action.

We should note that as part of Microsoft's ongoing supplier SEA (Social and Environmental Accountability) program, an independent auditor has been inspecting the KYE factory annually. In addition, Microsoft personnel conduct quarterly on-site assessments, and receive weekly reports from KYE on key labor and safety criteria that we monitor as part of our supplier SEA program. Over the past two years, we have required documentation and verification of worker age, and no incidence of child labor has been detected. Worker overtime has been significantly reduced, and worker compensation is in line with the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition standards for the Dongguan area.

Tobey said the on-site audit will happen next week, specifically regarding the allegations of the National Labor Committee. Meanwhile, while Microsoft is awaiting the audit findings, it will keep monitors at KYE.

To be clear, the workers are not employed by Microsoft. They work for KYE Systems.

Many readers asked, in the comment section of our Tuesday report, whether Microsoft did any regular inspections of the KYE factory, where workers manufacture, among other products for other companies, Microsoft-branded mice and webcams. It seems Microsoft had, at least, been monitoring the working environment there.

Which raises the question: Is Microsoft OK with the alleged conditions at KYE?

The official answer, of course, was no. But the real answer?