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MS to investigate sweatshop conditions at Chinese factory

Company accused of supporting "prison-like" practices in the production of 360 pads

Microsoft has said it will investigate allegations of appalling working conditions in a Chinese factory making its Xbox 360 controllers, mice and cameras following the publishing of a damning report by the National Labor Committee.

According to the report Microsoft accounts for the largest proportion of production at the KYE Factory in Dongguan, China - around 30 per cent of its output - and conditions at the factory are "crude" and "exhausting".

The operation is accused of a number of breaches which have taken place over the last three years - including paying below the legal minimum living wage, hiring illegal workers aged just 14 and forcing employees to work 97 hour long weeks.

"Twenty or thirty workers on a line must complete 2000 Microsoft mice in 12 hours. The workers' hands and fingers are constantly moving, many suffering abrasions and cuts, since the connectors must be inserted very closely together. Once workers meet the production goal, management raises it," said the report.

"We are like prisoners," one worker told an investigator. "It seems like we live only to work. We do not work to live. We do not have a life. Only work."

The report revealed that workers were earning 52 cents an hour - below the minimum wage in the country of 56 cents - while they were also forced to stay in cramped, hot dorm rooms overnight - "Workers who do not return to the factory are fined 200 RMB ($29.26) - more than a worker's regular weekly pay, and immediately fired," it stated.

Every year hundreds of "work study students" are hired by the factory, it claimed - most of whom are 16-17 years old, but some who look as young as 14. They work mandatory 15 hour shifts six or seven days a week.

"Since the young Chinese workers would never dream of making demands against Microsoft or the other corporations, this permits the corporations to tout their codes of conduct while knowing full well that they will never be implemented," said the report.

Workers said that Microsoft representatives had visited the factory in the past, while accompanied by mid and high-level managers. They added that these representatives hardly ever spoke to the employees.

However, Microsoft has responded to the allegations by saying it is "very concerned" by the report.

Writing on the company's blog Brian Tobey, Microsoft's head of manufacturing for entertainment and devices, said: "As a company that sells a wide range of hardware and devices, 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."

"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 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 labour 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 labour 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.

"Despite these earlier findings, we take the allegations raised this week quite seriously. Another comprehensive on-site audit of the facility will be conducted next week, with a specific goal of investigating the allegations raised in the NLC report. In addition, we will have monitors on site pending the results of the inspection."

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