The use of temporary workers, notably workers who are underage or students, has risen in China. But on Friday, HP issued new and tighter guidelines to its suppliers conducting operations in China that, according to the company, are the first for the information technology sector.
China’s role as the world’s factory workshop is now under siege as its once unlimited supply of cheap labor has run dry. Several factors are at play: the one-child policy the Chinese government implemented in 1979; Chinese workers’ demands to be treated like human beings; consumers’ outcry over abuses in factories; and the emergence of other economies that can offer a rate cheaper than China’s. As a result, many Chinese families have turned to vocational schools and temporary job agencies as stopgaps to address the declining number of workers. The results have been a variety of abuses, from local officials forcing students to work in factories while still paying vocational school tuition, including those whose studies have nothing to do electronics manufacturing.
And now that major media outlets such as the New York Times have covered this story, more technology companies will have to fall in line and develop policies instead of issuing excuses.
According to a press release HP released on Friday, the company’s new guidelines for student and temporary workers go far beyond local regulatory requirements in China and anything HP has mandated in the past. Student working hours must be set below local legal limits, and only a certain number of student workers are allowed to ensure that manufacturing facilities within HP’s supply chain are majority full-time workers. Temporary workers and “interns” will be free to leave their positions as they please and not be forced to remain on the job under any circumstances. Furthermore, student workers can only engage in manufacturing processes related to the degree or certification for which they are studying.
HP has required suppliers to follow these new rules immediately. The company will measure compliance through HP’s social and environmental responsibility (SER) audits and gauge progress using a set of key performance indicators (KPIs). Finally, HP is developing an audit protocol and collection tool based on the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition’s “zero-tolerance” policy for the most egregious cases of labor violations. Considering Foxconn workers in recent months have been found to be as young as 14, HP’s stricter supply chain policy cannot arrive soon enough.
This announcement comes as HP has smoothed out problems with its supply chain in recent years. Since 2005, the company has launched more ethical audits, employed workers at such audited factories and has seen an overall decrease in labor violations. At a time when consumers are now more concerned about the ethics behind their laptops, tablets and phones, it is time for more technology companies to issue similar policies. And it will be up to us to follow up with HP and see how these new directives make a difference in the long run.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost). He will explore children’s health issues in India February 16-27 with the International Reporting Project.
[Image credit: HP]