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High Tech, Low Pay In Focus

Business Impacts on Human Rights


"I feel like I am serving a prison sentence. The factory is forever pressing down on our heads and will not tolerate even the tiniest mistake. When working, we work continuously. When we eat, we have to eat with lightning speed. When I need to go to the bathroom, I have to try my hardest to control myself, to hold it in and not go. The security guards are like policemen watching over prisoners. We’re really livestock and shouldn’t be called workers."CHARLES KERNAGHAN, THE NATIONAL LABOR COMMITTEE, CHINA’S YOUTH MEET MICROSOFT 6 (2010), http://www.nlcnet.org/admin/reports/files/Chinas_Youth_Meet_Micro.pdf.
- Worker at Meitai Plastics & Electronics factory in Dongguan City


High-tech factory workers in southeastern China, many of whom are female migrants from poor rural parts of China, suffer low pay, a wide variety of labor rights violations, health and safety risks, and a lack of social benefits related to retirement and mental/physical rehabilitation.CHUN KIT HO ET AL., SACOM, PLAYING WITH LABOUR RIGHTS: MUSIC PLAYER AND GAME CONSOLE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA 17 (2009), http://makeitfair.org/the-facts/reports/playing-with-labour-rights.


Systematic Pressures Leading to Human Rights Abuses


The actions of factories, brand-name corporations and governments have been alleged to contribute in distinct ways to the abusive conditions faced by Chinese electronics workers. According to production workers interviewed by Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), brand-name corporations at the top of the supply chain, such as Dell and Lenovo, push supplier companies, like Excelsior and Compaq, to deliver on tight schedules and at low prices.CHUN KIT HO ET AL., SACOM, PLAYING WITH LABOUR RIGHTS: MUSIC PLAYER AND GAME CONSOLE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA 8 (2009), http://makeitfair.org/the-facts/reports/playing-with-labour-rights. Local governments are alleged to succumb to pressure from factories and brand-name corporations, not to enforce existing labor laws in order to keep production costs low.CHUN KIT HO ET AL., SACOM, PLAYING WITH LABOUR RIGHTS: MUSIC PLAYER AND GAME CONSOLE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA 6-8 (2009), http://makeitfair.org/the-facts/reports/playing-with-labour-rights. As a result of this time and cost pressure, workers are likely to face low pay, excessive working hours, and other violations of workers’ rights.CHUN KIT HO ET AL., SACOM, PLAYING WITH LABOUR RIGHTS: MUSIC PLAYER AND GAME CONSOLE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA 8 (2009), http://makeitfair.org/the-facts/reports/playing-with-labour-rights.


Low Wages and Excessive Working Hours


Despite recent increases in the legal minimum wage in 30 provinces, factory workers in the electronics sector suffer from low wages that violate the workers' right to an adequate standard of living, and that are insufficient to overcome rising food and living expenses.CHAN ET AL. , supra note 2, at 50-51; PÄIVI PÖYHÖNEN & DEBBY CHAN SZE WAN, MAKE IT FAIR CAMPAIGN, GAME CONSOLE AND MUSIC PLAYER PRODUCTION IN CHINA; A FOLLOW-UP REPORT ON FOUR SUPPLIERS IN GUANGDONG (2011), http://makeitfair.org/the-facts/reports/game-console-and-music-player-production-in-china; China Labour Bulletin, White Collar Workers Lose Out as Factory Wages Rise in the Pearl River Delta, March 9, 2011, available at http://www.clb.org.hk/en/node/101000; Labour Shortage in China Not Likely to End Soon, RETAIL ASIA, March 26, 2011, http://www.retailinasia.com/article/careers/human-resource/2011/03/labour-shortage-china-not-likely-ease-soon; CHINA LABOR WATCH, SURVEY OF CHINESE WORKERS’ WORKING CONDITIONS IN 2010 (2011), http://www.chinalaborwatch.org/news/new-328.html.


According to the China Labour Bulletin (CLB), an organization representing workers, wage increases are often accompanied by increases in the cost of food, rent, and transportation outside the factory gates. Moreover, 82.6% of the 46 factories surveyed by CLB in Guangdong and Jiangsu (8 of which were electronics companies) do not pay the legal minimum wage.China Labour Bulletin, White Collar Workers Lose Out as Factory Wages Rise in the Pearl River Delta, March 9, 2011, available at http://www.clb.org.hk/en/node/101000; Labour Shortage in China Not Likely to End Soon, RETAIL ASIA, March 26, 2011, http://www.retailinasia.com/article/careers/human-resource/2011/03/labour-shortage-china-not-likely-ease-soon; CHINA LABOR WATCH, SURVEY OF CHINESE WORKERS’ WORKING CONDITIONS IN 2010 (2011), http://www.chinalaborwatch.org/news/new-328.html.


Under Chinese labor law, work must be limited to eight hours per day, and any overtime must be limited to 36 hours per month.CHINA LABOR WATCH, SURVEY OF CHINESE WORKERS’ WORKING CONDITIONS IN 2010 § 41 (2011), http://www.chinalaborwatch.org/news/new-328.html. Often, however, during peak seasons, workers spend 80 to 90 hours per month working overtime, as suppliers are under great pressure to meet large quotas.CHUN KIT HO ET AL., SACOM, PLAYING WITH LABOUR RIGHTS: MUSIC PLAYER AND GAME CONSOLE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA 7 (2009), http://makeitfair.org/the-facts/reports/playing-with-labour-rights. Peak seasons frequently require workers to perform 11 to 13-hour shifts, six to seven days a week.CHUN KIT HO ET AL., SACOM, PLAYING WITH LABOUR RIGHTS: MUSIC PLAYER AND GAME CONSOLE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA 30 (2009), http://makeitfair.org/the-facts/reports/playing-with-labour-rights. Some workers interviewed by SACOM stated that this overtime was mandatory and they would be fined or dismissed if they refused.CHUN KIT HO ET AL., SACOM, PLAYING WITH LABOUR RIGHTS: MUSIC PLAYER AND GAME CONSOLE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA 25 (2009), http://makeitfair.org/the-facts/reports/playing-with-labour-rights.


Student Labor


The legal working age under Chinese law is 16 and factories often hire "student interns" or "work-study" students to avoid paying the social security insurance required for adult employees.CHUN KIT HO ET AL., SACOM, PLAYING WITH LABOUR RIGHTS: MUSIC PLAYER AND GAME CONSOLE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA 7 (2009), http://makeitfair.org/the-facts/reports/playing-with-labour-rights. See also CHARLES KERNAGHAN, THE NATIONAL LABOR COMMITTEE, CHINA’S YOUTH MEET MICROSOFT 14, 15 (2010), available at http://www.nlcnet.org/admin/reports/files/Chinas_Youth_Meet_Micro.pdf. According to the National Labor Committee, a nongovernmental organization that investigates and exposes human and labor rights abuses against workers in China, factories hire students because they are "easy to manage and control." CHARLES KERNAGHAN, THE NATIONAL LABOR COMMITTEE, CHINA’S YOUTH MEET MICROSOFT 14 (2010), available at http://www.nlcnet.org/admin/reports/files/Chinas_Youth_Meet_Micro.pdf. Some of these students are recruited from their schools.CHARLES KERNAGHAN, THE NATIONAL LABOR COMMITTEE, CHINA’S YOUTH MEET MICROSOFT 14, 15 (2010), available at http://www.nlcnet.org/admin/reports/files/Chinas_Youth_Meet_Micro.pdf. Like their adult co-workers, these 16- and 17-year-olds work shifts in excess of 12 hours and frequently work nights.See CHUN KIT HO ET AL., SACOM, PLAYING WITH LABOUR RIGHTS: MUSIC PLAYER AND GAME CONSOLE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA 30 (2009), http://makeitfair.org/the-facts/reports/playing-with-labour-rights. They are also exposed to the same hazardous conditions as adult workers at workstations where they are required to perform dangerous tasks, often involving toxic chemicals.JENNY CHAN ET AL., MAKE IT FAIR CAMPAIGN, SILENCED TO DELIVER: MOBILE PHONE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA AND THE PHILIPPINES 32-34 (2008), http://www.swedwatch.org/files/Mobile_Phone_Report_makeITfair_080924.pdf.


Restrictions on Personal Freedoms


Suppliers often maintain strict control over workers to maintain a large, productive workforce and meet brand-name production demands.CHUN KIT HO ET AL., SACOM, PLAYING WITH LABOUR RIGHTS: MUSIC PLAYER AND GAME CONSOLE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA 26, 30, 38 (2009), http://makeitfair.org/the-facts/reports/playing-with-labour-rights. According to Swedwatch, a Swedish non-profit organization that reports on Swedish business relations in developing countries, many employers confiscate workers’ identification cards during the first 15 days of employment,JENNY CHAN ET AL., MAKE IT FAIR CAMPAIGN, SILENCED TO DELIVER: MOBILE PHONE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA AND THE PHILIPPINES 36 (2008), http://www.swedwatch.org/files/Mobile_Phone_Report_makeITfair_080924.pdf. which effectively restricts their freedom to resign. If an employee wants to quit, he or she must buy back the card.JENNY CHAN ET AL., MAKE IT FAIR CAMPAIGN, SILENCED TO DELIVER: MOBILE PHONE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA AND THE PHILIPPINES 36 (2008), http://www.swedwatch.org/files/Mobile_Phone_Report_makeITfair_080924.pdf. Employees must also fill out complicated permission forms in order to formally quit.JENNY CHAN ET AL., MAKE IT FAIR CAMPAIGN, SILENCED TO DELIVER: MOBILE PHONE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA AND THE PHILIPPINES 36 (2008), http://www.swedwatch.org/files/Mobile_Phone_Report_makeITfair_080924.pdf; CHUN KIT HO ET AL., SACOM, PLAYING WITH LABOUR RIGHTS: MUSIC PLAYER AND GAME CONSOLE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA 38 (2009), http://makeitfair.org/the-facts/reports/playing-with-labour-rights. If they stop working before the paperwork is complete, they suffer loss of wages.JENNY CHAN ET AL., MAKE IT FAIR CAMPAIGN, SILENCED TO DELIVER: MOBILE PHONE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA AND THE PHILIPPINES 36 (2008), http://www.swedwatch.org/files/Mobile_Phone_Report_makeITfair_080924.pdf.


Humiliating Treatment


Within one electronics company that employs a workforce of 900,000 across China, managers and other staff holding positions of authority, reportedly humiliate and harass workers during their shifts.SACOM, WORKERS AS MACHINES: MILITARY MANAGEMENT IN FOXCONN 13-14 (2010), http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/report-on-foxconn-workers-as-machines_sacom.pdf. Reported incidents include being chastised for minor mistakes, being forced to copy quotations from the company CEO as many as 300 times or to criticize oneself in front of other workers, and being verbally harassed and physically abused.SACOM, WORKERS AS MACHINES: MILITARY MANAGEMENT IN FOXCONN 13-14 (2010), http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/report-on-foxconn-workers-as-machines_sacom.pdf. Some of these incidents are a form of punishment and others are arbitrary.


Workers have also been committing suicide at an increasing rate. According to Li Qiang, executive director of China Labor Watch, by May 2010, 28 people had committed suicide in the Pearl River Delta, more than double the number of suicides for the entire year of 2009.Mark Lee, Suicides Among China Factory Workers Surge, Labor Group Says, BUSINESS WEEK, May 26, 2010, http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-05-26/suicides-among-china-factory-workers-surge-labor-group-says.html. In at least two cases, the families of those who committed suicide alleged that humiliation or bullying by factory supervisors and security personnel contributed to their loved ones’ death.SACOM, WORKERS AS MACHINES: MILITARY MANAGEMENT IN FOXCONN 13-14 (2010), http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/report-on-foxconn-workers-as-machines_sacom.pdf.


Health and Safety Risks


Workers face risks to their health and safety in electronics factories. Many workers handle chemicals without chemical-resistant gloves.JENNY CHAN ET AL., MAKE IT FAIR CAMPAIGN, SILENCED TO DELIVER: MOBILE PHONE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA AND THE PHILIPPINES 33 (2008), http://www.swedwatch.org/files/Mobile_Phone_Report_makeITfair_080924.pdf. Even when provided, some workers do not wear gloves for fear that the gloves will reduce dexterity and accuracy, making it difficult for them to meet high quotas.CHUN KIT HO ET AL., SACOM, PLAYING WITH LABOUR RIGHTS: MUSIC PLAYER AND GAME CONSOLE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA 31(2009), http://makeitfair.org/the-facts/reports/playing-with-labour-rights. Toxic fumes from welding, spray painting, and soldering sometimes result in workers’ hospitalization.JENNY CHAN ET AL., MAKE IT FAIR CAMPAIGN, SILENCED TO DELIVER: MOBILE PHONE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA AND THE PHILIPPINES 37-38 (2008), http://www.swedwatch.org/files/Mobile_Phone_Report_makeITfair_080924.pdf; CHUN KIT HO ET AL., SACOM, PLAYING WITH LABOUR RIGHTS: MUSIC PLAYER AND GAME CONSOLE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA 31(2009), http://makeitfair.org/the-facts/reports/playing-with-labour-rights. In one instance, 137 workers were reportedly poisoned when their factory employer, without workers’ knowledge and without providing adequate protective gear, replaced rubbing alcohol with toxic n-hexane to clean LCD touch-screens.Kathleen E. McLaughlin, Global Post: Apple Supply Chain Workers in Asia Fall Ill Again (Mar. 4, 2011), http://sacom.hk/archives/833. The workers’ exposure to the toxic gas caused a host of symptoms from headaches to numbness, and left some in the hospital for months.Kathleen E. McLaughlin, Global Post: Apple Supply Chain Workers in Asia Fall Ill Again (Mar. 4, 2011), http://sacom.hk/archives/833.


A worker interviewed by SACOM who uses cleaning solvents all day said, "[o]ur supervisor sees it unnecessary to provide us with protective equipment; he simply doesn’t bother."See JENNY CHAN & CHARLES HO, STUDENTS AND SCHOLARS AGAINST CORPORATE MISBEHAVIOR (SACOM), THE DARK SIDE OF CYBERSPACE: INSIDE THE SWEATSHOP OF CHINA’S COMPUTER HARDWARE PRODUCTION 17, http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/cyberspace21.pdf.


In addition, employees interviewed by SACOM at two factories in Guangdong claim that the workers on the soldering lines are not provided with protective facemasks or gloves.JENNY CHAN ET AL., MAKE IT FAIR CAMPAIGN, SILENCED TO DELIVER: MOBILE PHONE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA AND THE PHILIPPINES 37 (2008), http://www.swedwatch.org/files/Mobile_Phone_Report_makeITfair_080924.pdf. Many factories also require workers to stand throughout the duration of their shifts, causing muscle aches.CHUN KIT HO ET AL., SACOM, PLAYING WITH LABOUR RIGHTS: MUSIC PLAYER AND GAME CONSOLE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA 8 (2009), http://makeitfair.org/the-facts/reports/playing-with-labour-rights. Some workers suffer numbness from performing repetitive tasks.CHUN KIT HO ET AL., SACOM, PLAYING WITH LABOUR RIGHTS: MUSIC PLAYER AND GAME CONSOLE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA 26 (2009), http://makeitfair.org/the-facts/reports/playing-with-labour-rights.



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Al Jazeera video highlights allegations of labour rights abuses at Foxconn factories in China manufacturing Apple products.

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