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February 08, 2013

HP Issues Stricter Labor Guidelines for Chinese Suppliers

By Ed Silverstein, TMCnet Contributor

Hewlett-Packard (News - Alert) appears to be getting tougher with its Chinese suppliers – such as Foxconn – and wants to improve working conditions at factories.

There have been numerous complaints made that Foxconn pays low salaries to “student interns” and temporary workers. Also, Foxconn confirmed it was using interns as young as 14 years of age, according to The Associated Press.

This week, HP issued new standards and guidelines for companies it works with in China. Now, HP says “that all work must be voluntary, and students should be free to choose not to work, or to quit if they’re unhappy. Additionally, when any students do work, the job must be relevant to their studies. The number of student workers has also been limited,” according to a report from All Things D.

HP will also limit the number of students and temporary workers to no more than 20 percent of labor during peak periods, media reports said. Also, HP will ensure that students and temporary workers can leave “work at any time upon reasonable notice without negative repercussions, and they must have access to reliable and reprisal-free grievance mechanisms.”

Apple (News - Alert), which also uses Foxconn, was also criticized for the labor practices in China. Apple urged Foxconn to make improvements in the workplace. In 2012, Apple also joined the Fair Labor Association.

It is a relatively common practice for Chinese factories to hire high school students, vocational school students and temporary workers to meet temporary increases in factory orders.

It is not an easy life for them. “Students complain of being ordered by school administrators to put in very long hours on short notice at jobs with no relevance to their studies; local governments sometimes order schools to provide labor, and the factories pay school administrators a bonus,” according to a report from The New York Times. Many workers rights organizations are monitoring the conditions of workers in Chinese factors.

Yet, the solution is not so clear. The workers would likely be worse off without their jobs.

“While we can applaud the fact that workers in China will be faring better, let’s keep in mind that abruptly changing things like inputs costs in the manufacturing sector could have far-reaching implications like inflation for the markets where Chinese goods are shipped as well as the potential for more robotics to be used to eliminate the workers altogether,” warned a 2012 blog post from TMC CEO Rich Tehrani (News - Alert).

Edited by Ashley Caputo
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