When Chinese Suppliers Abuse Workers: What You Don’t Read in the Headlines (Part 7)

Please click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6 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.

There are few jobs in the world where men need not apply. In fact, it's women who have been historically discriminated against. This is not true at MSI, a company headquartered in Taiwan with production operations on mainland China with its largest facilities in Shenzhen and Kunshan. As background, MSI Electronics, according to China Labor Watch, is a top-three global supplier of motherboards and graphics cards. Customers include the usual notebook, desktop and server subjects: HP, NEC, Dell, etc. In addition, "MSI additionally manufactures its own brand." But they also manufacturer their own peculiar labor practices.

In the Shenzen facility, which produces motherboards, graphic image cards, and assembles components, employees must bite their tongues. Or more specifically, "management repeatedly emphasizes that talking is strictly forbidden, even minimal personal communication is not tolerated" among employees. Taciturn employee policies aside, what's really odd by Western standards is that at MSI, "candidacy for general workers is strictly limited to women between the ages of 18 and 35 years old." Indeed, there's "blatant discrimination against male workers and older workers" and one need go no further than the "main gates of MSI factories," as China Labor Watch did (read their full report for the details).

Women toil at MSI at all hours of the day and night. Yet it's next to impossible for night workers to change their shift, which goes through the entire evening and workers complain wrecks havoc with their natural clocks. Specifically, "workers stated that after working the night shift for such a long time, their bodies were unable to withstand the pressure anymore. They had also not seen the sun for weeks. After working the night shift for so long, there are noticeable changes in their skin and a significant deterioration in their physical performance and health. If workers request to change to the day shift, it is very unlikely that their request will be granted."

Of course workers are always free to quit, just as they are in the West, right? Guess again. It's not that simple. Employees at MSI "will most likely not receive approval" if they follow the letter of the factory rulebook. Instead, "the unspoken rule about leaving the factory is that workers must voluntarily resign" which essentially means that "workers must forfeit 12 days of wages, including overtime wages...[because] the recorded wage cycle at MSI is from the 26th of the first month to the 25th of the following month. As wages are not distributed until the 7th of the subsequent month, wages are only distributed a full 12 days after the wage cycle ends." Hence, workers quitting on the 7th will be uncompensated for their work for the previous 12 days. And those who give notice 30 days in advance per the standard work rules are often denied the right to quit by the book, receiving pay for the actually days worked.

Some might call this the mother of all motherboard production labor policies. We just call it discriminatory, illegal (by Western standards) and just plain wrong. However, no doubt the Chinese government would rather see all of these young women employed working long shifts rather than having babies and taxing the resources of the state.

Jason Busch

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