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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Top UK brand supplier breaks employment laws in China as workers live and work in damming conditions

Some companies exploit Chinese workers with excessive work hours
Chinese employment law violations exploit workers
It has recently come to light that Dell's suppliers in China are currently exploiting employees of many ages and backgrounds by giving them little choice but to work up to 74 hours a week. 

Also, underage employees are being hired to carry out the work too, some being classed a ‘interns’; another way of paying even less, according to a new report and undercover video captured by Dan Watch and China Labor Watch.

Report findings

The director of DanWatch, Eva Lundström stated, "Our findings show that the workers are forced to work overtime to survive even though the ILO conventions and Chinese labour law state that the minimum wage should be set at a level sufficient to cover the basic daily needs of workers. The video evidence retrieved from inside the factory shows just how bad the conditions really are inside the factory and in the living quarters. The employees were filmed at two different factories; Guangdong and Jiangsu, uncovering the amount of overtime a month that employees would endure (between 52 and 136 hours), but in the peak seasons, employees were working frequently 7 days a week. Some workers are under the age of 18, which breaks even the Chinese employment law.

Living and working conditions for workers

The employees at the factory, with the majority of them being young students, live in dormitories that are on-site. The living conditions for workers are bad; there is just one toilet per 55 employees and shockingly, one shower room per 90 workers. There is a lack of hot water for washing and showering, leaving many staff living in nothing short of squalor.

If employees are looking to earn Chinese minimum wage levels, then they are forced to work overtime due to the severe under paying for their labour.  As most have no choice but to work overtime, most of the workers have to stand up for 12 hours as their jobs require them to stand even though there are a few chairs hanging about. Workers also get very short meal breaks; as soon as a worker has eaten, they’re off back on the ‘production’ line again.

Lack of correct equipment

There are also protection issues from the likes of fumes that can be overwhelming at times on the production line. The lack of proper equipment could cause many people long term health conditions. Reports also illustrate the workers experiencing psychological and verbal abuse; apparently, this type of working environment and code of practice is against Dell's ‘code of conduct’. Dell is also a member of the ‘standards’ of the Electronic Industry Citizen Coalition (EICC).

Other protests at the Foxconn factories

There was an investigation into the factory conditions after Foxconn, a supplier for Apple, Dell, Sony, HP, Nintendo and many more, were accused of breaking local labour laws in China. In order to bring this to light, the workers in the factory staged a mass protest in which they threatened to commit suicide because of the retched working conditions.

In 2010, 18 workers decided to jump from the roof of the factory as a suicide pact with 14 unfortunately dying. This suicide jump was due to the same reason; horrible working and living conditions. Dell’s response to the ‘situation’ suggested that they were looking into it by carrying out three audits. However, Dell and the other companies mentioned must have known about the conditions, as 14 people committed suicide in 2010 and there are approximately 24000 workers per month that quit their job in the Foxconn factories. The very high turnover and the suicides alone without doubt, suggest that there’s something very wrong with the working conditions.

The latest protest was carried out at the beginning of 2013, January 2, due to managers moving roughly 600 workers in the FoxConn factories to a new production line; workers forced to make computer cases for Acer. One of the workers stated "We were put to work without any training, and paid piecemeal. The assembly line ran very fast and after just one morning we all had blisters and the skin on our hand was black. The factory was also really choked with dust and no one could bear it”.

In response to the statement made by the worker, a spokesman for the Foxconn factories stated that “the protest was successfully and peacefully resolved after discussions between the workers, local Foxconn officials and representatives from the local government". This confirmed the protest carried out earlier this year.

The employment law has undoubtedly been broken in more ways than one and a thourough investigation is needed into the way that workers are treated; even though this has happened in China, Dell and the others who use Foxconn as their supplier should ensure that working conditions for employees are up to standard.

About the author: Sandra, the author of this article has worked in the law industry for several years and specialises in employment law and practices.

Image license: 1. Robert S. Donovan, CC BY 2.0