HP, Apple & Dell Sweatshops A Sick Joke?

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It reads like a sick joke but its doubtful millions of Chinese workers are laughing. Labour watchdog, China Labor Watch, has revealed the shocking conditions workers in China’s tech industry face on daily basis.

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Pictured: Foxconn workers hard at work.

“On May 20, 2011 an explosion in the Foxconn Chengdu factory resulted in three deaths and sixteen injuries” the report noted, referring to Apple’s principal supplier of iPad 2 and iPhone. 

 On Tuesday, Smarthouse reported on how Foxconn are to employ robots to drive production. 
 However, this tragedy at Apple’s main supplier is nothing new – similar incidents have been periodically recorded in many of China’s factories, according to the CLW report ‘Tragedies of Globalisation: the Truth Behind Electronics Sweatshops’, published last month. 
 “While hazardous working conditions are a concern across all of China’s labor-intensive industries,” the report noted, the problems facing China’s workers are “more numerous and systemic.” 
 The watchdog investigated the conditions workers were subjected to in ten “global brand” suppliers in the electronics industry, discovered “multiple violations” of China’s Labor Law introduced in 2008 and brand companies’ corporate social responsibility codes, who contract out to the Chinese factories. 
 The litany of workerplace violations include militant management practices, poor wages, labor intense methods of production and forced to work overtime, as 9/10 plants enforced “excessive” overtime: a direct violation of China’s labor laws.
 Employers also often refused to give contracts, or else signed contracts were withheld from employees who sought to claim due wages and benefits. 
 Discrimination against workers on the basis of their gender, age, and status as Hepatitis B carriers, poor or no safety training were also reported. 
Workers from Shanghai Quanta plant expressed that lower management has absolutely no regard for their well being and treat them as “subhuman.” 
 At another, Catcher Technology, workers must submit a written request to not work overtime and wait for approval from their line leader. Failure to work overtime is considered absenteeism, thus no pay. 
 “The level of work intensity is extremely high in all ten factories. In each factory, the production quota is determined by the maximum output the most efficient workers are able to withstand,” the report also noted. 
 
 

“For example, on the HP production line, workers must complete an action every three seconds and repeat this for ten consecutive hours.,” the report says. 

 During the peak season, monthly overtime in some plants can hit over 120 hours. And brands like Dell, HP and Sony are to blame, the watchdog believes. 
“The multinational companies that contract production to these Chinese factories claim that the factories bear the sole responsibility for these abuses.” 
 However, it appears none of these corporate powerhouses have done little or anything about the abuses, to date. And these slave like conditions are not just confined to a few rogue manufacturers but are, in fact, “entrenched” in the production chain. 
 “CLW posits that many of these abuses are firmly entrenched in the global supply chain system.” 
 Why? Because most production costs are to an extent inelastic, the only way factories can cut costs is by slashing production costs, including the cost of labour. 
 “This burden is eventually passed down to workers, who are forced to work long hours at a high intensity.”
“When these external pressures become too great, and workers suffer from accidents or tragedies such as suicides occur, blame is often directed at factories, while international companies at most publish a press release, and vow to implement reform.” 
 So, who are these brand culprits? The list reads like the attendees of any electronics trade show: Dell, IBM, Ericsson, Philips, Microsoft, Apple (whose Foxconn abuses are well documented), HP, Nokia. MSI, Toshiba, Samsung, Motorola and Samsung. 
So, what can be done? Changes to these endemic practices cannot be made merely through the efforts of factories but it is “essential” that the multinational increase their ordering price, the watchdog believes.
 Governments, in particular in China, also need to enforce regulations and establish “effective” grievance procedures for workers. 
 

However, “as consumers, every one of us can do a bit: supervising the immoral brands and decline to consume the immoral products.”

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