When Chinese Suppliers Abuse Workers: What You Don’t Read in the Headlines (Part 3)

Please click here for Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. This analysis references the following report: Tragedies of Globalization: The Truth Behind Electronics Sweatshops No Contracts, Excessive Overtime and Discrimination: A Report on Abuses in Ten Multinational Electronics Factories.

The next supplier we'll profile certainly has a clean facility on the outside. The company, Catcher Technology, is located in the Suzhou Industrial Park. For those who have not spent much time in the area, which is located a convenient drive or train ride from Shanghai, Suzhou is a city of old and new. I've personally admired the many historic gardens in the old part of the city while enjoying the nightlife and a few great meals as well. But I'm not one of the workers in the state of the art Suzhou Industrial Park working at Catcher's plant. This park, if you've not seen it, is massive. It's also clean and new. It makes the still-alive areas of industrial Detroit look like a third-world country in comparison. Catcher Technology's plant houses a facility that spreads across 180 acres, specializing in magnesium alloy die-casting.

This facility produces notebook computer components, cell phones/shells and MP3 players/housings for companies such as Dell, Apple, Motorola, Nokia, ASUS, Acer, IBM and Sony. For a single facility involved in metals production one supply chain step up from raw and semi-finished materials, the plant is hugely profitable, earning $65.7 million in the first quarter of 2011. On the outside, it looks similar to any large-scale, modern production facility in the world. But on an earnings basis, workers earn a base minimum pay of $175.56 USD on a monthly basis, yet the average salary factoring in overtime is $462 US per month. The complete wage picture, of course, factors in hundreds of extra hours per month.

Despite the dangerous conditions inherent in any metals forming, machining, fabrication or stamping facility, "before workers begin in the factory, there is no introductory training with regard to environmental and health conditions. The only safety precautions workers are given is a simple explanation of being careful while at work, not to run around, don't move products and wires, and do what the leader instructs." There are no first aid kits in the factory or the dormitories and "workers report that especially the grinding of cell phone cases creates very fine powder which is extremely easy to inhale into the nose and lungs...[workers in this area] think they are susceptible to contracting pneumoconiosis." In addition, the "workshop is ventilated, but the ventilation is not sufficient enough to dull the strong toxic odors" of lacquer paint and other "toxic product chemicals."

Catcher Technology may look like a gleaming example of the Suzhou Industrial Complex. No doubt, senior managers coming in from the West to supervise local audit teams are likely to enjoy the Starbucks that is not far away (I know I have, including having a local mug to show for it). But look inside at the labor practices at seemingly modern facility according to the China Labor Watch undercover analysis and you'll see working conditions that mirror those of the industrial revolution -- or worse -- when it comes to health and human safety and worker exposure to toxic substances.

Think about that next time you marvel at the smooth casing on your smart phone.

Jason Busch

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