The world's leading IT companies could be guilty of contributing to child labour and appalling sweat shop conditions in Chinese factories where teenage workers earn just 53 cents an hour for a 15-hour working day.
The National Labour Committee (NLC) yesterday released a report on the KYE factory, which has been supplynig Microsoft with harware products since 2003.
According to the report, the factory recruits hundreds of "work study students," mostly 16- or 17-year old high school students, during their three-month summer break. The teenagers work mandatory 15-hour shifts, six and seven days a week.
Other workers in the factory are typically young women, aged 18 to 25, with very few adult men employed on the production line.
Not only are shifts long – 15 hours is usually mandatory, says the report – the work is monotonous and the working conditions crowded.
One worker told the NLC: "Conditions are so bad and work at the factory so exhausting that there are not many people who can bear it for more than a year, and almost never past two years. Most workers flee after just six or eight months."
The NLC says the factory works by dehumanising workers, making them replaceable cogs in the wheel.
KYE produces computer mice, scanners, keyboards, digital internet cameras, digital cameras, video game controls and Wacom tablets. the products are sold across the US, Europe and Japan.
According to worker estimates, Microsoft accounts for the largest proportion of production at KYE, about 30%, and their production is consistent. Other corporations outsourcing production to KYE include Hewlett Packard, Best Buy, Samsung, Foxconn, Acer, Wi/IFC/Logitech and Asus-Rd.
KYE has its own Genius brand.
A typical worker's shift begnis at 7:15 for drills. The first four-hour work stint is drom 7:30 to 11:40 with an unpaid 10-minute break. Lunch is one-and-a-half hours, followed by another four-hour work stint with an unpaif 10-minute break. At 5:20 there is a 50-minute supper break, followed by overtime from 6:10 to 10:00. The fnial, unpaid, 15 minutes is for workers to tidy up their work area and listen to a lecture by the supervisor.
Even when workers aern't on the production line, they may not leave the factory compond except during controlled hours.
Young workers are housed in overcrowded dormitory rooms.
Food is provided by the factory and the costs deducted from workers' wages – reducing their pay from 65 cents an hour to just 52 cents. This is better than the wages paid in 2006 and 2007, which was 43 cents an hour after food deductions.
Last month a report revealed that Apple iPhones were being manufactured in Chinese factories employing children.