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Chinese Suppliers to Microsoft Cited for Labor Violations

New York Times  |  April 19, 2010  |  Share  | 


SHANGHAI — Two Chinese factories that supply goods to Microsoft and other global companies have been cited by government officials for violating local labor laws, including failing to register more than 300 workers between the ages of 16 and 18.

The two companies, Kunying Computer Products and Xieying Computer Products, both units of KYE Systems Corp., were also found to have forced young people to work excessive amounts of overtime in violation of the law.

Microsoft said last week that it was investigating the factories in the southern Chinese factory town of Dongguan after a U.S. labor rights group released a report saying that for years the factories had hired underage workers and forced them to work long hours in abusive conditions.

Although factory conditions in southern China have improved in recent years, and the government has passed new laws to protect workers, labor rights groups regularly release reports documenting harsh conditions and widespread violations of China’s labor laws.

Global companies often require audits of their Chinese suppliers, but many are flawed or compromised, experts say.

In a report last week, the Pittsburgh-based National Labor Committee said the KYE factories often recruited 16- and 17-year-old “work study students” to toil 15 hours a day, six or seven days a week, for between 65 cents and $1 an hour.

The report released photographs it said were smuggled out of the factory, showing dorm rooms cramped with 14 workers and employees slumped over their work stations, apparently in exhaustion. The report said many workers were forced to work 15-hour shifts producing computer mice and a Microsoft Web cam.

The U.S. labor group claimed that some of the factory workers were as young as 14, and that employees were often forced to work long overtime hours, in violation of the law.

After a quick review of the factories last week, the Dongguan Municipal Human Resources Bureau cited the factories for failing to register 16- to 18-year-old workers and forcing them to work “excessive” amounts of overtime. The bureau did not specify what, if any, penalties were imposed immediately. But labor officials said the factories could face stiff punishment if the problems are not resolved within two weeks.

Under Chinese law, people between the ages of 16 and 18 are allowed to work, but there are restrictions on their workloads and they should be registered with local authorities.

Dongguan officials said Monday that about 326 workers, ages 16 to 18, were not registered with local authorities. They also said that in March workers on production lines at the two companies worked, on average, about 280 hours each — far exceeding the 196 hour maximum allowed by law.

Still, Lai Jinhui, a spokesman for KYE Systems, which is based in Taiwan, said in a telephone interview Monday that the National Labor Committee report exaggerated the factory conditions and that auditors have been invited to visit the plant.

Mr. Lai said the factory did employ over 300 workers between the ages of 16 and 18 but that they “are allowed to be employed according to the local labor law.”

Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Washington, issued a statement last week saying the company has “rigorous standards in place” and that it was “concerned” about the National Labor Committee report.

Microsoft said there had been regular audits of the factories but that a new audit would take place this week. “If we find the factory is not adhering to our standards, we will take appropriate action,” Microsoft said in a statement posted online.


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