One of every two mobile phones is manufactured in China. In 2008, makeITfair published a report about poor working conditions at factories that mobile phone companies source from. One year later, two of the factories (supplying chargers to Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and LG) have been re-examined. Important issues remain, important issues remain.
One of every two mobile phones is manufactured in China. In 2008, makeITfair published a report about poor working conditions at factories that mobile phone companies source from. One year later, two of the factories (supplying chargers to Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and LG) have been re-examined. Since makeITfair’s first report was released, important improvements have been experienced by workers, improvements such as the provision of adequate protection gear and health and safety training. However, important issues remain, including excessive working hours and medical tests before hiring.
“Electronics production includes several hazardous tasks and substances. Appropriate protection and health and safety training are therefore vital to protect workers’ health. The owners of these two factories have acknowledged this and realised that these kinds of investments are good for business. Investments made to improve conditions at the sites are now generating a return”, says Sara Nordbrand at SwedWatch, one of the organisations behind makeITfair.
In 2007, young women worked without face masks or gloves at these factories, inhaling hazardous fumes at poorly ventilated workstations. They reported cut and burned hands and fingers, and their living conditions were unacceptable and unsafe. Since then, a new owner has taken over the factories and invested USD 2.5 million in improving conditions at these sites.
However, workers interviewed by makeITfair in 2009 state that some issues still remain to be addressed. One complaint regards excessive working hours and related health problems. As last time, workers earn a low minimum wage for fulltime work, which make them dependent on their overtime earnings. As expressed in the 2008 report, excessive overtime hours are often the result of a combination of low wage levels and orders placed late or changed at the last minute by buyers. MakeITfair therefore recommends that the mobile phone companies adjust their demands and practices.
“If they demand fewer overtime hours without demanding higher basic wages, they risk creating situations where workers, in the end, face greater problems in supporting themselves and their families. Living wages, instead of minimum wages, should therefore be the goal,” says Esther de Haan at SOMO, the lead organisation behind makeITfair.
This study also indicates that workers are discriminated against during the recruitment process based on age, gender and place of birth. Moreover legal , but questionable, liver function tests are conducted before hiring. Certain medical tests before hiring have long been mandatory in China but their application risks discriminating against the most vulnerable workers in China – migrant workers who suffer from health problems. They are far away from home with an insufficient social safety net which exacerbates their precarious situation. makeITfair recommends that mobile phone companies work with their suppliers in cooperation with local Chinese organisations involved in this issue.