Archive for » February, 2009 «

National Labor Committee releases report on working conditions in China factories of major electronics manufacturers

I bought a $280 laptop today. Question: what human costs have been externalized? More dramatically, how many people had to die for me to get it (at that price)? Fractional answers accepted, if perverse.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

High Tech Misery in China

Meitai Plastics & Electronics
Dongguan City, Guangdong
CHINA

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Two thousand workers, mostly young women, produce computer equipment including keyboards and printer cases for Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Lenovo, Microsoft and IBM.
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Management instructs the workers to “love the company like your home,” “continuously strive for perfection” and to spy on and “actively monitor each other.”
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Workers are prohibited from talking, listening to music, raising their heads, putting their hands in their pockets. Workers are fined for being one minute late, for not trimming their fingernails—which could impede the work, and for stepping on the grass. Workers are searched on the way in and out of the factory. Workers who hand out flyers or discuss factory conditions with outsiders are fired.
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The young workers sit on hard wooden stools twelve hours a day, seven days a week as 500 computer keyboards an hour move down the assembly line or one every 7.2 seconds. Workers are allowed just 1.1 seconds to snap each key into place, repeating the same operation 3,250 times an hour, 35,750 times a day, 250,250 times a week and over one million times a month.
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The workers are paid 1/50th of a cent for each operation.
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The assembly line never stops, and workers needing to use the bathroom must learn to hold it until there is a break.
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All overtime is mandatory, with 12-hour shifts seven days a week and an average of two days off a month. A worker daring to take a Sunday off—which is supposedly their weekly holiday—will be docked 2 ½ days’ wages. Including unpaid overtime, workers are at the factory up to 87 hours a week. On average, they are at the factory 81 hours a week, while toiling 74 hours, including 34 hours of overtime, which exceeds China’s legal limit by 318 percent!
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The workers are paid a base wage of 64 cents an hour, which does not even come close to meeting subsistence level needs. After deductions for primitive room and board, the workers’ take-home wage drops to just 41 cents an hour. A worker toiling 75 hours a week will earn a take-home wage of $57.19, or 76 cents an hour including overtime and bonuses. The workers are routinely cheated of 14 to 19 percent of the wages legally due them.
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Ten to twelve workers share each crowded dorm room, sleeping on narrow metal bunk beds that line the walls. They drape old sheets over their cubicle openings for privacy. In the winter, workers have to walk down several flights of stairs to fetch hot water in a small plastic bucket, which they carry back to their rooms to take a sponge bath. In the summer, dorm temperatures reach into the high 90s.
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Workers are locked in the factory compound four days a week and are prohibited from even taking a walk.
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To symbolize their “improving lives” the workers are served a special treat on Fridays—a small chicken leg and foot. For breakfast, they are given watery rice gruel. The workers say the food has a bad taste and is “hard to swallow.”
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Illegally, workers are not inscribed in the mandatory work injury and health insurance and Social Security maternity leave program. In the Molding department, due to the excessive heat, the workers suffer skin rashes on their faces and arms.
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One worker summed up the general feeling in the factory: “I feel like I am serving a prison sentence.”

Full report here.