When Chinese Suppliers Abuse Workers: What You Don’t Read in the Headlines (Part 4)

Please click here for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 in 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.

I'm typing this post on a new MacBook Pro. It's a remarkable piece of equipment even considering it's gone back to the shop three times in the first month since I've had it (long story, for another day). Yet I can't say I'm proud to know that some of its components may have come from the Hongkai Electronic facility in Dongguan, which produces parts and components for Apple, HP, and IBM among others. Hongkai supplies "computer chassis, computer motherboards, precision components, computer connectors and cables" to a marquis list of export hardware brands. Workers at this facility may be contributing to some of the fastest machines that IT spending can buy and workers often work an "extreme number of overtime hours" exceeding 142 hours per month.

Consider that "from September through November, workers worked 30 days each month and were only afforded the night off on Sunday to rest." Unfortunately, simply being on the shop floor more than workers in the West does not mean that employees are servicing their equipment at the rate it needs to be. "The factory has many large machines, and each machine has posted its maintenance record. The machines are examined once each day. When this was inquired about, many workers said that they perform the inspection themselves. However, these examinations are rather haphazard and arbitrary."

How arbitrary? "The workers check off the inspection with a stroke on the record sheet and do not do anything else. Some machines do not have a maintenance record on them and it is only when the machine breaks down that technicians are found to repair them." This inattention to maintenance detailed has no doubt played a role in the "at least eight major accidents, all due to machines malfunctioning or improper operation," in recent years. However, for the great majority of workers that do survive un-maimed with lots of overtime savings to show for it, it's good to know thing health ignorance can be bliss as "workers with exposure to toxic chemicals or gases do not receive an in-service or exit health examination."

I can't help but wonder if the devices coming out of the plant are cleaned/sanitized before heading into great tech gear. After all, if "the sanitation conditions in the workshops are very poor" and "there is no regular scheduled cleaning" as China Labor Watch suggests, one wonders what might sneak its way into a cable housing to leak out later. Wait, it gets more interesting -- do workers have time for bio breaks? "There is no time to use the bathroom, even if you can find a replacement to substitute you on the line." Hmm...maybe you should take out the Lysol and wipe down your new gadget or machine just in case.

Or call up your favored IT vendor and see why they don't put a resource onsite to get to the bottom of the actual conditions at Hongkai Electronic.

Jason Busch

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