Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
WEB & TECH / MAR. 28, 2014
version 4, draft 4

Made in China – The Plight of Chinese Workers in Electronic Sweatshops

According to ChinaLaborWatch.Org, 75% of globally recognized electronic products are outsourced via OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers). Notable brand names that use this mechanism include Microsoft, Sony, Dell, Hp, Samsung and Apple. China is recognized as the global hub of OEMs due to its cheap incentives and low labour costs. However, most of these Chinese factories have been recognized as electronic sweatshops due to a wide range of worker rights violations. Which violations are these?

1) Overworking with Incredibly fast Labor Intensity – Workers standing for 10-12 hours in production lines is a common norm in most Chinese OEM factories. In fact, these workers are required to complete an action in 3 seconds. For instance, a worker is required to assemble a cell phone casing in 5 seconds. It’s also a fact that overtime hours in such factories can average up to 160hrs every month. The only break time in the middle of the day lasts for 10 minutes, with some workers obliged by their managers to skip their breaks. Such intensities of course bring with them long term physical and mental adversities. Workers that fail to deliver fall prey to verbal harassment by their superiors and are forced to ‘voluntarily’ work overtime. It’s no wonder that suicide reports have become systemic in such factories.

2) Poor Pay – Profit-driven multinationals ensure that they squeeze out dollars from OEMs to ensure lowest possible production costs. For instance, since production materials and miscellaneous expenses are specified by multinationals, OEMs cannot look for cheaper production materials to cut costs. They’re thus left with the option of cutting costs of worker salaries to increase assembly revenue. This is due to the profit pressure passed down the supply chain from multinational profit to a meager worker’s salary. There are also reports of workers being forced to ‘voluntarily’ quit their jobs leading to unpaid dues.

3) Evasion of Compensation Responsibility – Deaths and suicides have been frequently reported in Chinese factories. However, multinationals have developed an uncanny behavior when it comes evading the responsibility of accounting for and compensating such fatalities. For instance, when a tragic accident occurs, the media overwhelmingly focuses on OEMs. This exposure consequently generates pressure from stakeholders and labor rights organizations to shut down the factories in question. The multinationals then compel OEMs behind closed doors to declare that they take full responsibility for violating workers’ rights, labor laws and production process guidelines. This is the perfect scapegoat formula for electronic multinationals since they use this declaration to terminate partnerships with OEMs thus creating the illusion that the multinational respects workers’ rights by distancing themselves from rogue OEMs. However, behind the limelight of the media, the multinational is glad to have found a convenient way to evade damning allegations and ‘inconveniencing’ compensation costs.

Chinese workers lack an internal grievance mechanism to voice their transgressions. In addition, China lacks stringent worker rights thus making it an easy, convenient and attractive low-risk haven for multinationals to evade worker responsibility and access cheap labour in an overpopulated nation. There have also been numerous reports of child labour, poor worker safety and severe age in these electronic sweatshops as a rogue mechanism by OEMs to cut costs. What’s even more outrageous is the fact that work is done 7 days a week with only one day of rest a month for the workers, if they are lucky. In the end, despite the fact that human rights groups such as work hard to promote worker rights, it’s only the goodwill of the Chinese government that can save the workers and stop this vice once and for all. 

Image courtesy of JapanFocus.Org

Special Thanks to ChinaLaborWatch.Org and SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour)

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