Chinese factory workers are working in prison-like conditions for 41 cents an hour to make computer parts for IBM, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Dell, a report claims.
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US organisation the National Labour Committee (NLC) found 2,000 workers at the Meitai factory work an average of 74 hours a week, for a base wage of 64 cents an hour. This drops to 41 cents an hour after room and board is removed.
The workers, mostly young women aged from 18 to their mid-20s, are not allowed to talk, listen to music, look around them, put their hands in their pockets, or go to the toilet unless it is an official break.
Workers are encouraged to monitor each other and are fined if they break rules. These include being one minute late for a shift or putting personal items on a work desk.
On the assembly line, a keyboard passes each worker every 7.2 seconds. The worker has to snap six or seven keys into place in that time.
The NLC visited the factory between June and September 2008 and in January this year. One worker said, "I feel like I am serving a prison sentence. We are really livestock and should not be called workers."
The Meitai Plastics and Electronics factory in Dongguan City, Guangdong Province, China, makes keyboards and other equipment for Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft, and Lenovo.
The companies said they would investigate conditions at the factory but none said they would cancel contracts linked to the factory.
Microsoft said the factory supplies one of its contracted manufacturers. A spokesperson said, "We are working closely with our industry partners and contracted supplier to conduct an investigation and make any necessary improvements to comply with all guidelines and regulations."
Lenovo also said it does not deal directly with the factory, which has links with one of its suppliers. The company said the factory will be audited by the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition. It also said its supplier would be investigating the factory.
A spokesperson for HP said, "The factory named in the report is not one of HP's direct suppliers, but is a supplier to two of our suppliers. HP will audit this facility through a validated industry audit. This will be conducted promptly by a third-party audit firm on behalf of the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition. Based on the results of the audit, we will work together with our supplier to develop corrective actions where appropriate."
Dell said it was "actively investigating" the issues in the report. A spokesperson said, "I can tell you that any reports of poor working conditions in Dell's supply chain are investigated and appropriate action is taken."
Charles Kernaghan, report author and director at the NLC, said, "The $200 personal computer and the $22.99 keyboard may be seen as a great bargain, but in the long run they come at a terrible cost."
"Through the (Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), of which IBM is a founding member, a joint-audit is being conducted to assemble the facts and address this issue with the supplier/or suppliers involved."