Don't ask, don't tell (mega-corporation edition)

All you unemployed Americans, there are jobs for you in China!

Plenty of opportunity to earn overtime, too, thanks to the standard 80-hour workweek.

In 2007 and 2008, before the worldwide recession, workers were at the factory 97 hours a week while working 80 ½ hours. In 2009, workers report being at the factory 83 hours a week, while working 68 hours.

Wages are rising!

Effective take home wages — after factory deductions for food — were 43 cents an hour in 2006-2007 and 52 cents an hour to date.

Time off is available:

Three days off a month.

Plus, you often don’t have to work through your lunchtime:

It was also common, on average at least twice a week, for the workers to have to remain working through one hour of their lunch break.

And, if you finish your quota of 2,000 Microsoft mice per shift early, you might even get a bathroom break:

  • 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.

  • Security guards sexually harass the young women.

  • 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.

  • Not only are the hours long, but the work pace is grueling as workers race frantically to complete their mandatory goal of 2,000 Microsoft mice per shift. During the long summer months when factory temperatures routinely reach 86 degrees, workers are drenched in sweat.

  • There is no freedom of movement and workers can only leave the factory compound during regulated hours.

Did Microsoft care that it has been exploiting these workers since at least 2006?

The workers did tell us that Microsoft representatives have visited and walked through the KYE factory, always being accompanied by mid and high-level managers. On these walk-throughs, U.S. company representatives hardly ever speak to the workers.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” isn’t just for gay soldiers. It’s true in sweatshops around the world.

I’ve never liked Microsoft. This investigative report would make me dislike Microsoft even more, if Microsoft were in any way exceptional. Sadly, Microsoft is but one of countless global corporations eager to exploit dirt cheap manual laborers to save a few pennies per product sold.

If Microsoft’s a junkie, China’s a pusher. It’s almost equally hard to blame China because many other governments similarly allow their citizens to be exploited by global corporations. As the report notes,

If there is even one corner of the world where the right to freely organize and collectively bargain is not guaranteed, then capital, like a serial criminal, will search out that place. Justice can only be won when corporations are held legally accountable to respect the checks and balances of workers rights.

The best solution is making “free trade” contingent on fair treatment of workers and environments. Countries that systematically allow companies to exploit their employees or despoil their air and water should be cut off from world trade until they adhere to common standards of decency.

Posted by James on Thursday, April 15, 2010