Microsoft employees urge company to protect Chinese tech workers from state censorship

Microsoft employees urge company to protect Chinese tech workers from state censorship
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A group of mainly U.S.-based Microsoft employees on Monday urged the company to protect a group of Chinese tech workers from state censorship. 

In a petition, the group of Microsoft employees called on their employer to refuse to bow down to Chinese state pressure as a group of Chinese tech workers speaks out about their working conditions on a channel run by Github, which is owned by the tech giant.

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Chinese workers have been using Microsoft-owned Github, an open-source website that allows programmers to collaborate on code, to lament their "996" schedules. Chinese executives have touted the "996 policy," which forces tech employees to work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days per week, as a strategy to make their tech sector more productive.

Tech workers in China say the policy has put them in harm's way, with negative effects on their mental, physical and emotional health.

A growing group of Chinese tech workers has gathered on a Github "repository," or project, to demand better working conditions and rail against the "996" policy. 

The "996.ICU" Github repository, a reference to the possibility that workers will end up in an intensive care unit if they work 72 hours per week, has grown in popularity even as some major Chinese browsers have limited access to it in China.

The U.S. Microsoft workers in the letter, obtained by The Hill and other news outlets, raise concerns that the Chinese government will ask Microsoft and Github to remove the "996.ICU" repository. 

"Tech workers in China started a GitHub repository titled 996.ICU, a reference to the grueling and illegal working hours of many tech companies in China — from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week," the Microsoft employees wrote.

"We must entertain the possibility that Microsoft and GitHub will be pressured to remove the repository as well," the workers wrote. "We encourage Microsoft and GitHub to keep the 996.ICU GitHub repository uncensored and available to everyone."

"996.ICU" is one of the fastest-growing repositories in Github's history.

The Microsoft letter comes as tech companies are facing growing scrutiny over their work in China, as critics say most technologies made in the country are subject to the whims of its government.

Google, in particular, has come under scrutiny over its work on Project Dragonfly, a censored search engine for China. Google CEO Sundar Pichai has claimed there are no plans to launch the Chinese search engine, but employees recently told The Intercept that the company is still developing Dragonfly. 

Microsoft workers, who have increasingly mobilized against what they perceive as ethics violations by their employer, on Monday said they "stand in solidarity with tech workers in China."

"We know this is a problem that crosses national borders," they wrote. "These same issues permeate across full time and contingent jobs at Microsoft and the industry as a whole."

Microsoft did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment.