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Sunday, April 18, 2010

The image Microsoft doesn't want you to see: Too tired to stay awake, the Chinese workers earning just 34p an hour

By Liz Hull and Lee Sorrell


Showing Chinese sweatshop workers slumped over their desks with exhaustion, it is an image that Microsoft won't want the world to see.

Employed for gruelling 15-hour shifts, in appalling conditions and 86f heat, many fall asleep on their stations during their meagre ten-minute breaks.

For as little as 34p an hour, the men and women work six or seven days making computor mice and web cams for the American multinational computer company.

Worn out: Some of the workers making computer accessories for Microsoft at a Chinese factory


This photo and others like it were smuggled out of the KYE Systems factory at Dongguan, China, as part of a three-year investigation by the National Labour Committee, a human rights organisation which campaigns for workers across the globe.

The mostly female workers, aged 18 to 25, work from 7.45am to 10.55pm, sometimes with 1,000 workers crammed into one 105ft by 105ft room.

They are not allowed to talk or listen to music, are forced to eat substandard meals from the factory cafeterias, have no bathroom breaks during their shifts and must clean the toilets as discipline, according to the NLC.

The workers also sleep on site, in factory dormitories, with 14 workers to a room. They must buy their own mattresses and bedding, or else sleep on 28in-wide plywood boards. They 'shower' with a sponge and a bucket.

And many of the workers, because they are young women, are regularly sexually harassed, the NLC claimed.

The organisation said that one worker was even fined for losing his finger while operating a hole punch press.

Microsoft is not the only company to outsource manufacturing to KYE, but it accounts for about 30 per cent of the factory's work, the NLC said. Companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Foxconn, Acer, Logitech and Asus also use KYE Systems.

Microsoft, which exports much of the hardware made at the factory to America, Europe and Japan, said that it is taking the claims seriously and has begun an investigation.

One employee told the NLC: 'We are like prisoners. It seems like we live only to work - we do not work to live. We do not live a life, only work.'

The NLC's report included an account from one worker whose job consisted entirely of sticking selfadhesive rubber feet to the bottom of Microsoft computer mice.

But the monotony of sitting or standing for 12 hours, applying foot after foot to mouse after mouse, was not the worst of the worker's testimony.

It was the militaristic management and sleep deprivation that affected the worker most. 'I know I can choose not to work overtime, but if I don't work overtime then I am stuck with only 770 Chinese yuan (£72.77p) per month in basic wages,' the worker said.

'This is not nearly enough to support a family. My parents are farmers without jobs. They also do not have pensions.

'I also need to worry about getting married, which requires a lot of money. Therefore, I still push myself to continue working in spite of my exhaustion.

'When I finish my four hours of overtime, I'm extremely tired. At that time, even if someone offered me an extravagant dinner, I'd probably refuse. I just want to sleep.'

Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the NLC, said: 'It sounded like torture - the frantic pace on the assembly line, same motion over and over for the 12 hours or more of work they did.'

Microsoft said it was committed to the 'fair treatment and safety of workers'. A spokesman added: '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 misconduct.'
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Cambodia, Thai soldiers exchange gunfire at border

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodian and Thai soldiers engaged in a brief gunbattle in a disputed border area Saturday, with Cambodia accusing its neighbor of instigating their latest clash. No injuries were immediately reported.

Troops fired rifles, machine guns and rockets in the 15-minute gunbattle near the Ou Smach checkpoint in northern Cambodia, said Pech Sokhin, governor of Oddar Meanchey province where the border is located.

The countries accuse each of encroaching on the other's territory.

Pech Sokhin said the Thai soldiers fired shots after Cambodian troops ignored a demand to shift their location deeper into Cambodia.

"Once the Thais got back to their side, Thai forces opened fighting and Cambodia had to respond," Pech Sokhin said, adding that no Cambodian soldiers were wounded.

Thai authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

Gen. Chea Tara, Cambodia's deputy military commander, said commanders from both sides met and called a truce.

Relations between Cambodia and Thailand have been strained over the status of land at a historic temple at another spot along their border. The International Court of Justice in 1962 recognized the Preah Vihear temple as belonging to Cambodia, a decision only grudgingly accepted by Thailand and still challenged by Thai ultra-nationalists.

Deadly clashes have occurred near the temple.

Thailand also was angered last year when Cambodia named fugitive former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as an adviser on economic affairs. Tensions worsened after a subsequent visit by Thaksin, and Cambodia's rejection of a formal request from Thailand to extradite him.
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