Forced labour in European universities’ servers and IT equipmentPhoto: Uffe Weng

Western European universities spend billions on IT equipment produced by young Chinese students who are forced to work on production lines during so-called internships. This constitutes a gross violation of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention on forced labour.

Forced labour in European universities’ servers and IT equipmentPhoto: Uffe Weng
Servants of Servers

Servants of Servers

Rights violations and forced labour in the supply chain of ICT equipment in European universities

The report ‘Servants of servers’, published today by the GoodElectronics Network, presents the findings of an investigation conducted at a factory of Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Wistron in Zhongshan, Guangdong, China. The Wistron factory in Zhongshan produces servers for HP, Dell and Lenovo – the brands most widely used by European universities and higher education institutions.

After being presented with the findings of the investigation conducted by the independent Danish media and research centre Danwatch, HP and Dell acknowledged several violations. The brands have temporarily suspended the use of student interns at their production lines at the Wistron factory in Southern China.

Key findings presented in ‘Servants of servers’:

  • Thousands of Chinese students are being forced to complete irrelevant internships: the students work 10-12 hours a day, six days a week, for up to 5 months. They have to do overtime and night shifts.
  • If the students refuse to complete the internship, they will be denied their diploma.
  • Experts describe the forced internship programmes at Wistron as forced labour. This is a flagrant violation of Chinese Labour Law and International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention on forced labour.
  • In 2015, Western European educational institutions spent 4.27 billion euros on hardware, software and IT services, of which €461.38 million were spent on servers alone. HP is the market leader in this sector, with a share of 28 percent. Dell controls 13 percent and Lenovo 11 percent.

“We are all depressed”

Xu Min (19) is studying accountancy and is forced to spend three to five months working at Wistron factory: “We are standing at the assembly line the whole day, doing the same task again and again. It has nothing to do with my education. None of us want to be here. We are all depressed, but we have no choice, because the school told us that if we refused, we would not get our diploma. The work is exhausting.”

Pauline Overeem, GoodElectronics Network: “The problem of forced student labour in the electronics industry is widespread in China, Thailand and the Philippines.” But the case of the Wistron factory in Zhongshan doesn’t stand on its own. It is good to know that HP and Dell take these signals seriously, but it is high time that brands and manufacturers across the board take determined action to ensure decent working conditions without any form of forced labour at their suppliers.”

The report ‘Servants of Servers’ is authored by Danwatch and published by Good Electronics in collaboration with CentrumCSR, People & Planet, SETEM, Südwind, WEED, Asienhaus and Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung Forum.