November 17, 2009

Report Reveals Poor Working Conditions In “˜Silicon Sweatshops’

Many components of some of the world's most widely used gadgets may come from what is being referred to as silicon sweatshops, according to a recent investigation.

In a report published Tuesday on the Global Post, Jonathan Adams and Kathleen E. McLaughlin issued a five-part investigation into the origins of the world's most popular technology products from major distributors, including Apple, Dell and Nokia.

The report points to an atmosphere in which workers are paid less than one dollar per hour with no assurance that they will have a job from day-to-day.

"By the time a gadget reaches Apple's flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City or any other U.S. retailer, it may have passed through the hands of a heavily indebted Filipina migrant worker on the graveyard shift in Taiwan, a Taiwanese "Ëœquality control' worker who'll soon be fired without warning, and a young Chinese worker clocking 80-hour weeks on a final assembly line, at less than a dollar an hour," said the report.

In 2006, Apple discovered that workers who were manufacturing iPods in a facility in China were being overworked.

Additionally, the National Labor Committee this year reported that workers at a facility that supplies components for Dell and Microsoft were working 81 hours per week, on average.

Dell responded to the report stating that it had developed a "corrective action plan". Microsoft said it was investigating the supplier and vowed to make "necessary improvements."

However, Adams and McLaughlin report that human rights activists say that such promises from companies are good for PR, but they are not doing enough to solve the problem.

"These codes of conduct and audits are new tools that every brand will have, and they feel so proud of themselves," Jenny Chan, a labor rights activist formerly with Hong Kong labor rights group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), told the Global Post.

"But the codes have limits. To see fundamental change, you have to get labor groups involved and gain the trust of workers. Otherwise it's just a cat-and-mouse game between auditors and suppliers."

"I'm not sure there are many manufacturers or vendors out there who audit as aggressively as we do," said Apple spokesperson Jill Tan. "I'm not sure there are many out there who take this as seriously as we do. Have you come across any other companies that provide this much detail in their audits?"

In May, Global Post said it reported several abuses on workers at a Taiwan electronics firm that is believed to supply components to Apple, Nokia and Motorola. Global Post interviewed 12 current and former workers at the facility to find that routine violations of industry codes were in place.


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