National Labor Committee report on Chinese CE factories uncovers deplorable conditions

Yesterday, the National Labor Committee produced a report on the working conditions at the KYE Factory in Dongguan City, Guangdong, China. KYE operates (like many factories in China) a live-work facility and generated sales of $400 million in 2008. KYE manufactures outsourced products for HP, Best Buy, Samsung, Foxconn, Acer, Logitech, and ASUS. Their largest customer, however, is reportedly Microsoft. The report details some of what we've come to expect in stories of labor abuses -- near children, most of them women, working for 16 or 17 hours a day, living in nearly deplorable conditions, for less than a dollar an hour -- all so that the world's ever-growing need for / addiction to consumer electronics can be fed. Now, the gadget industry isn't the only offender by a stretch -- but it's quickly becoming one of the largest (in addition to producing a truly horrific amount of toxic garbage). After the break are some choice facts from the report that our readers might be interested in ingesting, so read on.

  • KYE recruits hundreds-even up to 1,000-"work study students" 16 and 17 years of age, who work 15-hour shifts, six and seven days a week. In 2007 and 2008, dozens of the work study students were reported to be just 14 and 15 years old. A typical shift is from 7:45 a.m. to 10:55 p.m.

  • Along with the work study students-most of whom stay at the factory three months, though some remain six months or longer-KYE prefers to hire women 18 to 25 years of age, since they are easier to discipline and control.

  • Workers are paid 65 cents an hour, which falls to a take-home wage of 52 cents after deductions for factory food.

  • Workers are prohibited from talking, listening to music or using the bathroom during working hours. As punishment, workers who make mistakes are made to clean the bathrooms.

  • Fourteen workers share each primitive dorm room, sleeping on narrow double-level bunk beds. To "shower," workers fetch hot water in a small plastic bucket to take a sponge bath. Workers describe factory food as awful.

  • Workers can only leave the "compound" during regulated hours.

One worker is quoted as saying they are "like prisoners." The report also says that the disgruntled workers usually blame the factory itself, and don't make the connection between the companies -- whose products they are manufacturing -- and their horrible work conditions. The report says that these young people are clearly unaware of the wealth of the companies, and think only of their direct employers -- who fail to heed even the basic requirements laid out to them by companies like Microsoft.

Microsoft released a statement today saying that it is "committed to the fair treatment and safety of workers" employed by its vendors, and that its begun an investigation into the allegations of the report. It couldn't be clearer, however, from the ever-mounting pile of evidence, that nearly every major company selling us our gadgetry is at least complicit -- if not completely at fault in this situation. Microsoft (and all the other companies accused) outsource production in large part because of the cheapness of the labor provided by lax labor laws in countries like China -- which necessarily leads to conditions such as these.

As Engadget is primarily a source for news and information on consumer electronics, we feel it's our responsibility to help draw attention to this report -- this is our industry, and abuses like the ones detailed above should be dragged into the harsh light of day. We're urging CE-makers to make serious inquiries about the practices in their factories, and start making real changes that will prevent this kind of thing from growing as this industry moves forward. Engadget as a site isn't in the habit of taking sides or making political statements, but when something is so obviously an affront to humanity, it's easy to speak up about it. We urge you to do the same, especially to the companies you're buying your devices from.