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Microsoft and Slave Labor

I've been pretty outspoken in my views that no company--Microsoft, Google, Apple, whatever--should be doing business in or with China until that country has ceased engaging in ongoing and regular human rights abuses. This week, Microsoft got into some hot water over allegations that a Microsoft partner in China, making computer mouse products for the software giant, is essentially a sweatshop. No surprise there, of course. But Microsoft has now issued a formal statement about this event. Here it is.

Working to Ensure the Fair Treatment of Workers in Our Manufacturing and Supply Chain

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.  We have rigorous standards in place, and have established a robust supplier Social and Environmental Accountability (SEA) program.

We were therefore very concerned when we saw a report by the National Labor Committee (NLC) alleging that conditions at a factory operated by KYE in Dongguan, China, were adversely impacting workers.  KYE assembles and packages hardware products for Microsoft and a wide range of other companies.

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 labor 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 labor 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.

We will take all appropriate steps to ensure the fair treatment of the KYE workers.

So this is responsible, of course. But there's a reason that places like China offer the lowest manufacturing prices: Individuals and the environment are regularly abused in that country. It's that simple. And I really think that the only realistic way to make that change is to stop doing business there. But corporations are not driven by moral concerns, they're driven by greed, and they're controlled by law. So this isn't going to change from what I can see.

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