Giants profit from 'electronic sweatshops'
Published 22/07/2011 | 05:00
Some of the world's largest technology companies -- including Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Dell -- have created a network of "electronic sweatshops" in China and share responsibility for a string of suicides among workers, a report claims.
As Apple celebrated record profits yesterday, China Labour Watch, a New York-based group, presented startling evidence of the human cost of our obsession with technology. It sent investigators to work on the production lines of 10 Chinese electronics factories that assemble products for Apple, Dell and HP, as well as Sony, Nokia, Motorola and many others.
Over an eight-month period, they interviewed more than 400 workers and claimed that conditions were not only unethical but often illegal under Chinese law.
Nine of the 10 factories allegedly forced staff to work as many as 40 extra hours of overtime each week and nine paid a basic wage that "did not provide workers with the means to afford basic living costs".
The report claimed that on one HP assembly line, workers were required to complete their assigned task every three seconds and remain standing for 10 hours.
One of the factories allegedly had such "militant" bosses that workers were forbidden to speak during their 12-hour shifts.
Some were said to have made it impossible for staff to visit the lavatory.
The report noted that the industry was unregulated and that Apple paid only £3.99 (€4.52) to manufacture a £600 (€680) iPhone, leaving factories little option but to make profits by exploiting workers.
Earlier this week, an employee at Foxconn, the world's largest electronics manufacturer, was found dead at the company's sprawling factory in the southern city of Shenzhen, where more than 250,000 workers assemble gadgets for almost every major electronics company.
Last year, a suicide cluster at Foxconn claimed 14 lives and prompted scrutiny of working practices. China Labour Watch said the industry had failed to change its ways.
"Foxconn is not the only company that should bear responsibility for worker suicides: Apple, HP, Dell and other international companies should also be held responsible, as their goal of profit maximisation comes at the cost of the workers' wages and suboptimal working conditions," the report argued.
In some factories, it was alleged, workers were not given contracts or payslips.
Apple, Dell, HP and Nokia did not return requests for a comment.
In annual reports earlier this year, Apple disclosed that child labour at its suppliers in China was worsening, with 91 children under the age of 16 found in factories making Apple goods.
Dell admitted that only 46pc of its suppliers were following its rules. Sony and Motorola said they were committed to improving working conditions, but declined to comment further. (© Daily Telegraph, London)