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High Tech, Low Pay In Focus
"Our parents’ generation would keep their heads down and endure. But our generation is different. … The most important thing in life for us is to realize our values. No matter if it’s life, love, work – we are not going to be humiliated like our parents were."Kathrin Hille et al., Young Chinese Workers on Strike, FIN. TIMES, July 16, 2010, available at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/5554fda0-8fb0-11df-8df0-00144feab49a.html.
The struggle to demand justice for workers in electronics manufacturing in China has involved efforts at the factories in China—at the "bottom" of the supply chains—and by consumers and brand-name multi-national corporations—at the very "top" of the chains. Chinese workers have increasingly engaged in collective action and litigation to demand their rights in the workplace. Chinese labor activists and NGOs have supported these efforts through trainings, campaigns and public interest litigation.
Workers’ Collective Actions
Young migrant factory workers in the Pearl River Delta have relentlessly demanded higher wages and better working conditions. In 2010, workers held 36 strikes over a six-week period for better pay.Zheng Erqi & Huang Kayi, 36 Pay Strikes in 48 Days in Guangdong, PEOPLE’S DAILY ONLINE (China), July 16, 2010, available at http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90776/90882/7068363.html. During the same time period, 3,000 workers at one electronics factory also went on strike.Tyra Dempster, China Strike Wave Persists, Hits Japanese Firm, REUTERS, July 1, 2010, available at http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTOE66004I20100701. Workers hung banners with slogans such as "We want fair treatment" and "We want a pay raise."Tyra Dempster, China Strike Wave Persists, Hits Japanese Firm, REUTERS, July 1, 2010, available at http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTOE66004I20100701. China Labor Watch (CLW), a non-profit organization working in the U.S. and China, reports that the "labor strikes in 2010 were unique in that they became infectious or ‘viral,’ and that the strike movements increased in frequency."Tyra Dempster, China Strike Wave Persists, Hits Japanese Firm, REUTERS, July 1, 2010, available at http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTOE66004I20100701. CLW believes that this is "evidencing a trend that workers are more and more willing to use strikes as a means of protest."CHINA LABOR WATCH, SURVEY OF CHINESE WORKERS’ WORKING CONDITIONS IN 2010 (2011), http://www.chinalaborwatch.org/news/new-328.html.
Labor Rights Training
China-based labor activists and NGOs have conducted workplace training to inform workers of their rights under labor laws and corporate codes of conduct. The Chinese Working Women Network (CWWN) has trained factory workers on corporate social responsibility and on occupational health and safety. Workers are trained to enhance their decision-making capacity and enforce workplace codes of conduct by speaking collectively.See The Chinese Working Women Network (CWWN), http://www.cwwn.org/eng/main.html (select "Projects in China" then "Workplace Training") (last visited 1 Nov. 2010).
In 2009, Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) launched a pilot Labor Rights Training Program in collaboration with brand-name corporation Hewlett-Packard (HP).Press Release, SACOM, Towards a New Worker-Based CSR Model: A Pilot Labor Rights Training Program in China (Sept. 23, 2009), available at http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/towards-a-new-worker-based-csr-model_eng.pdf. SACOM partnered with CWWN and Labor Education & Service Network to train 4,500 workers at the factories of two Hewlett-Packard supplier factories. Their program aims to raise workers’ awareness of their rights and improve grievance mechanisms in direct supplier organizations through the use of tools such as worker hotlines and dispute resolution committees. According to HP, it has started to implement the trainings for its other suppliers’ factories in China and plans to continue similar programs.See Hewlett-Packard Company, HP Global Citizenship: Supply Chain – Labor, http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/globalcitizenship/society/supplychain/labor.html (last visited Oct. 31, 2010).
Workers have also sought other means to demand compliance with labor law. Qing Tong, for example, a 28-year old factory worker, came across a book on Chinese labor law in a library, discovered her employers’ violations, and brought it to their attention.Kathrin Hille et al., Young Chinese Workers on Strike, FIN. TIMES, July 16, 2010, available at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/5554fda0-8fb0-11df-8df0-00144feab49a.html. Qing has published a bestselling memoir of her experiences as a migrant factory worker to raise awareness of the harsh working conditions in Chinese factories.Kathrin Hille et al., Young Chinese Workers on Strike, FIN. TIMES, July 16, 2010, available at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/5554fda0-8fb0-11df-8df0-00144feab49a.html.
Public Interest Litigation in China
Chinese factory workers have also gone to court to seek accountability for human rights violations. For example, workers poisoned in 2009 by a chemical used to clean LCD screens reportedly plan to bring a lawsuit against Wintek, the owner of the factory where they worked in Suzhou, China. This factory produces components for products like Apple’s iPhone.Eric Savitz, 44 Workers Sue iPhone Contractor Wintek Over Alleged Poisoning, TECH TRADER DAILY (May 13, 2010, 3:42 PM), http://blogs.barrons.com/techtraderdaily/2010/05/13/44-workers-sue-iphone-contractor-wintek-over-alleged-poisoning/.
The China Labour Bulletin (CLB), an organization representing workers, brought nearly 600 new labor dispute cases in Chinese courts in 2008 alone through its Labor Rights Litigation Project.China Labour Bulletin, An Introduction to CLB’s labour Rights Litigation Work http://iso.china-labour.org.hk/en/node/100020 (last modified Jan. 7 2009). See also China Labour Bulletin, Public Interest Litigation in China: A New Force for Social Justice, Oct. 10, 2007, http://www.clb.org.hk/en/files/File/research_reports/Overview_of_PIL_2.pdf. CLB uses public interest litigation as a tool to raise public awareness of specific labor issues and compel legal and policy reforms. Over the course of last five years, CLB filed several lawsuits regarding Hepatitis B discrimination, and won a legal victory when the government of China announced an end to mandatory Hepatitis B testing of new employees.China Labour Bulletin, An Introduction to CLB’s labour Rights Litigation Work, http://iso.china-labour.org.hk/en/node/100020 (last modified Jan. 7 2009); China Labour Bulletin, China’s First Successfully Litigated Hepatitis B Employment Discrimination Case, Aug. 19, 2009, http://www.clb.org.hk/en/node/100542.
CLB also uses the media to publicize its cases and advocate for reform of China’s labor laws.
Corporate Accountability at the Top of Supply Chains
Advocates have worked to pressure global electronics corporations at the top of supply chains to improve conditions at the factories manufacturing their products. Local and international organizations, like Good Electronics--the International Network on Human Rights and Sustainability in Electronics, have conducted joint investigations of supplier factory conditions and have published reports "naming and shaming" the brand-name companies at the top of the supply chains. They have also run international campaigns to encourage consumers to leverage their buying power to demand sweatshop-free electronics.
According to SACOM, "although it is the suppliers’ responsibility to follow Chinese Labor Law, the pressure that computer multinationals exert on prices and production schedules leaves Chinese suppliers with little room for respecting workers’ rights."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 8, http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/cyberspace21.pdf. To prevent these abuses, NGOs like SACOM and World Economy, Ecology and Development (WEED) urge corporations to raise payments to suppliers and "acknowledge that short lead times are not to be achieved on the back of workers."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 28, http://sacom.hk/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/cyberspace21.pdf.
Some businesses have responded to the reporting and advocacy of human rights organizations by setting labor and human rights standards for their suppliers and improving factory conditions. Once Motorola became aware of unjust and harsh conditions at its supplier factory, for example, it hired an independent auditor to investigate and develop plans to improve conditions through a monitoring process.See JENNY CHAN ET AL., MAKE IT FAIR CAMPAIGN, SILENCED TO DELIVER: MOBILE PHONE MANUFACTURING IN CHINA AND THE PHILIPPINES 60 (2008), http://www.swedwatch.org/files/Mobile_Phone_Report_makeITfair_080924.pdf. Other corporations, such as Intel, have created mechanisms for reporting ethical issues or violations of corporate codes of conduct. Intel’s reporting mechanism for example, is designed to provide for a confidential review of employee, contractor, distributor, supplier or customer complaints. If the complaints are substantiated the company will take action to correct the problem.See, e.g., Intel, Reporting an Ethics Concern, https://supplier.intel.com/static/Ethics/reporting.htm (last visited Nov. 2, 2010).
Parry Leung of Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) explains how training has helped factory workers demand their rights.
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