|Workers Silenced While We Talk. Mobile phone manufacturing and rights violations in China and the Philippines
Every second, 36 mobile phones are manufactured. Half of them are made in China. Most of the mobile phones we buy are produced by female workers aged 16 to 30.
MakeITfair, an international coalition of SACOM, SOMO, Germanwatch, Verbraucher Initiative, FinnWatch / Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, Karat, IRENE, SwedWatch, Church of Sweden, Fair Trade Center, ACIDH and Cividep, has investigated labour conditions at six factories that produce components for Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, LG, Sony Ericsson and Apple’s iPhone in China and the Philippines. The research revealed that working conditions there violate national laws, conventions of the International Labour organisation as well as the mobile phone companies’ own codes of conduct on issues such as wages, working hours and use of hazardous chemicals.
The study, Silenced to Deliver, shows that low wages for full-time work at the factory mean that workers must put up with inhumane overtime hours in order to make ends meet. The workers often work 10 to 12 hours per day, six to seven days per week. Some workers fall asleep on the job or make mistakes because they are exhausted; this in turn leads to wage deductions. The quick pace of work forces some workers to forego protective equipment even though they are handling chemicals that may harm their health.
“Health and safety is not only about providing the right equipment, but also about giving the employees the possibility to use it. Workers we have interviewed for this report show symptoms that are typical for mishandling of chemicals. Education and a reasonable work pace are urgently needed if their health is to be protected,” says Jenny Chan at Hong Kong-based Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), which coordinated the research in China.
In China, the number of strikes and the reports about violations of labour rights to the authorities has increased significantly the last few years, a trend that the government has tried to counter by introducing more thorough labour laws. However, labour inspections and monitoring are few.
“The whole concept of audits, where an auditor is looking for things that are not right, creates a difficult situation. The natural reaction for the audited party is to try to pass the audit and therefore not to show eventual issues to the auditor. This is a result of the psychology of audits and not a sign of distrust. Audits can also never be more than, at best, a snap shot of the situation,” writes Mats Pellback-Scharp, Head of Corporate Sustainability Office at Sony Ericsson.
More far-reaching and permanent changes will not come about until the employees are allowed to organise and openly express their opinions.
Mobile phone companies need to take corporate responsibility for the conditions at contract manufacturers and sub-tier suppliers. Factory managers interviewed by makeITfair complain about the inconsistency of the demands from the mobile phone companies. On the one hand, suppliers are asked to lower production costs. On the other hand, they are required to improve working conditions and environmental aspects of the production, investments that obviously raise costs. The larger suppliers can often handle these competing demands, if they want to, but smaller factories further down the supply chain are unable to reconcile them.
Are workers silenced while we talk?
Download and read the full 76-page report, Silenced to Deliver: Mobile
phone manufacturing in China and the Philippines (September 2008), at www.makeitfair.org and www.sacom.hk.
Information for consumers who want to take action is available at http://makeitfair.org/take-action.
For more information, please contact:
Jenny Chan [Hong Kong], researcher at SACOM, +852 2392 5464, + 852 2392 5463
makeITfair is a three-year project that aims to raise awareness about labour and human rights abuses in the production chain of consumer electronics goods, including mobile phones, MP3 players, game consoles and laptops. It is funded by the EU and participating organisations are: SOMO, Germanwatch, Verbraucher Initiative, FinnWatch/ Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, Karat, IRENE, SwedWatch, Church of Sweden, Fair Trade Center, SACOM (China), ACIDH (Congo) and Cividep (India).