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[liberationtech] Silicon Sweatshops (fwd)

Todd Davies davies at
Mon Nov 30 23:32:45 PST 2009

A list member has just pointed out to me that there is a project right 
here at Stanford that addresses these issues exactly, which I am very glad 
to know about:


On Mon, 30 Nov 2009, Todd Davies wrote:

> I really like the Liberation Technology list, but am sometimes struck by the 
> irony of applying technology to liberate people in countries where the 
> production of technology itself is creating human rights and environmental 
> problems. So I wanted to share the article below, addressing the flipside of 
> ICT for development and liberation. A comprehensive approach would certainly 
> have to address this as well, and it seems to me there could be synergy 
> between technology for liberation and the liberation of technology workers. - 
> Todd
> Silicon Sweatshops
> Silicon Sweatshops
> Sunday 22 November 2009
> by: Jonathan Adams and Kathleen E. McLaughlin  |  The Global Post
> (Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: marissaorton,
> quapan)
> Taipai, Taiwan — Hourly wages below a dollar. Firings with no notice.
> Indifferent bosses. Labor brokers that leech away months of a worker's
> hard-earned wages. A corporate shell game that leaves no one
> responsible.
> Such conditions are widespread at the contract factories cranking out
> some of the most popular gadgets on the holiday season’s gift lists,
> according to labor rights activists and workers interviewed by
> GlobalPost.
> Whether it's your cherished iPhone, Nokia cell phone or Dell keyboard,
> it was likely made and assembled in Asia by workers who have few
> rights, and often toil under sweatshop-like conditions, activists say.
> 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 "quality 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.
> Recent years have seen a drumbeat of reports on such abuses. In 2006,
> in an audit following a British media report, Apple found that workers
> in a factory assembling iPods in China were working excessive overtime
> hours.
> Earlier this year, the Pittsburgh-based National Labor Committee, a
> nonprofit human rights group, alleged that workers at a supplier to
> Microsoft, Dell and other brands in Dongguan, China, were clocking
> mandatory 81-hour weeks, on average. (Dell said in an email that a
> "corrective action plan" has since been developed after a joint audit
> of the firm with other customers. A Microsoft spokesperson said it was
> investigating the supplier firm and would make any "necessary
> improvements.")
> Embarrassed companies have vowed to do better. They've drafted "codes
> of conduct" for their Asian suppliers, and promised more factory
> audits to catch abuses.
> But here's the problem, say activists: While such codes may be great
> public relations, they're not working to fix the problem. Worse, the
> codes permit the big brands to pat themselves on the back, even as
> workers continue to be exploited in the shadowy world of Asian
> electronics supply chains.
> "These codes of conduct and audits are new tools that every brand will
> have, and they feel so proud of themselves," said Jenny Chan, a labor
> rights activist formerly with Hong Kong labor rights group Students
> and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM). "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."
> The problem is compounded by a lack of transparency. Asian electronics
> supply chains are notoriously murky. Contractors shift orders across
> borders and between factories and subcontractors, and many major
> brands treat their supplier list as top-secret information.
> That makes it difficult to pin down who's making what for whom and,
> therefore, difficult to fix blame when allegations of abuse come to
> light. When a factory catches flak from labor rights groups and
> negative media coverage, the big customers often cut orders or sever
> business ties — a surgical strategy that activists say fails to
> address underlying, systemic problems in the industry.
> Apple’s response: “We take corrective actions when required”
> Even by the industry's own assessment, its codes are routinely ignored.
> In its latest annual report, the Electronic Industry Citizenship
> Coalition (EICC) published results of joint audits in 2007 and 2008.
> (EEIC members employ some 3.4 million workers. Members include Apple,
> Dell and Hewlett-Packard.) It found rampant violations of its code of
> conduct on working hours and wages and benefits.
> Or take Apple's own findings. In its latest "supplier responsibility"
> update, published in February 2009, Apple found that nearly 60 percent
> of audited suppliers violated its code of conduct guidelines on work
> hours and days off.
> Other common violations included under-paying for overtime and
> deducting salary as punishment. And Apple found a few factories that
> falsified records, employed under-aged laborers and hired workers who
> had paid recruitment fees exceeding the legal limit.
> All of that raises a question: Why aren't the big brands being tougher
> in enforcing their codes?
> Apple insists it is doing a lot. "Our audits are done across all our
> suppliers," said Apple spokesperson Jill Tan, in a phone interview.
> "It's a pretty rigorous process, and we take corrective actions as and
> when required. We audit aggressively, and post all results on our
> website."
> The company's code is a "dynamic document which we continually
> update," Tan said, and audits are done both by Apple itself, and third-
> party experts.
> Asked how Apple responds to those who say it's hiding behind codes
> that are ineffective in securing workers' basic rights, Tan said,
> "It's not just a matter of posturing, we look into this very
> meticulously. To me, we're pretty open. We don't see how we can
> provide more information beyond what's already available."
> "I'm not sure there are many manufacturers or vendors out there who
> audit as aggressively as we do," said 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?"
> (Apple declined GlobalPost’s request to go beyond the public relations
> department and interview Bob Bainbridge, the firm's director of social
> responsibility for suppliers.)
> Dell also rejected the idea that industry codes aren't effective. "We
> take exception to that," said spokesman David Frink. "Given the size
> and breadth of the global supply chain, full implementation of these
> important standards is a long-term effort to which Dell is fully
> committed," the firm said in a later email.
> Our investigation
> In May, GlobalPost covered reports of labor abuses at just one Taiwan
> electronics firm believed to supply Apple, Nokia and Motorola at its
> factories in Taiwan and China. Since then, we’ve interviewed 12
> current and former workers at this same company. We heard the
> following new allegations:
> For Taiwanese workers, routine violations of Apple and industry codes
> of conduct on work hours, days off, overtime, worker complaint
> mechanisms and the right to organize; For Chinese workers, violations
> of a major electronic industry group's code of conduct on all of the
> above, and allegations of under-aged labor; For Filipina migrant
> workers, "placement fees" far in excess of Taiwan regulations, with
> fees and deductions amounting to nearly a full year's salary — a
> "core" violation of Apple's code.
> These allegations, which are documented throughout this series, are by
> no means limited to this one supplier. Taiwan's labor broker system
> applies to many Southeast Asians who come to work on the island. And
> labor rights groups have done numerous studies of the scope of the
> problem.
> But the news is not all bleak.
> In our reporting, we heard sincere commitments to deal with these
> issues by frustrated executives who struggle with these complex
> economic realities. We also learned of a groundbreaking project to
> improve conditions at a Taiwan supplier for HP that appeared to have
> excellent results. Though limited in scope, the project offers some
> degree of hope that the big electronics brands can do more to fix the
> problem.
> This story included reporting from Dongguan, China.

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