A Microsoft supplier in China is forcing teenagers to work 15-hour shifts in "sweatshop conditions", according to a report by the National Labor Committee (NLC).
A three-year investigation of the KYE factory in Dongguan, China, produced pictures of exhausted teenagers "seen slumping over asleep on their assembly line during break time". Microsoft says it has launched an investigation into the conditions.
The factory employs up to 1,000 students aged around 16 or 17 who work 15-hour shifts, six or seven days a week. They make webcams, mice and other computer peripherals for Microsoft and other US companies.
The factory pays workers 65 cents an hour, which falls to 52 cents an hour after deductions for factory food. They work between 68 and 80 hours a week. The NLC says management controls "every second" of the workers' lives, and the pace is gruelling, with a mandatory target of producing 2,000 mice per shift.
The factory also employs large numbers of women aged 18 to 25, because, the NLC says, young women are "easier to discipline and control". The organisation says the women are sexually harassed by security guards and are not allowed to leave the factory compound unless it is during regulated hours.
A spokesman for Microsoft said, "Microsoft is committed to the fair treatment and safety of workers employed by our vendors. Microsoft has invested heavily in a vendor accountability programme and robust independent third-party auditing programme to ensure conformance to the Microsoft Vendor Code of Conduct.
"We are aware of the NLC report, and we have commenced an investigation. We take these claims seriously, and we will take appropriate remedial measures in regard to any findings of vendor misconduct."
NLC director Charles Kernaghan said, "KYE management claims factory conditions are excellent, and that they are in full compliance with China's labour laws. But the young women describe the factory as a prison, where everyone who can flees within six months. It is almost impossible to find a worker who has been at the factory for more than a year or two. As usual, the codes of conduct for Microsoft, HP and the Electronics Industry Council have zero impact."
It is not the first time the NLC has found workers in China living in bad conditions at factories making products for the IT industry. Last year it reported on the Meitai factory, which makes products for Dell, Lenovo, IBM, HP and Microsoft.