Playing with Labour RightsPhoto: Cover of 'Playing with Labour Rights'

makeITfair report reveals violations of workers' rights in game console and portable music players manufacturing in China. This is the first study on working conditions in this specific sub-sector.

Playing with Labour RightsPhoto: Cover of 'Playing with Labour Rights'

makeITfair's new report 'Playing with Labour Rights' tells that hiring workers through labour agencies is increasingly common in the electronics industry. In China, the number of contract workers increased by seven million to 27 million in 2008. The studied factories made no exception. "The sales figures of both game consoles and portable music players have increased rapidly in recent years. Still, particularly workers hired through agencies who are making these products have to bear the high human costs. These workers face wage deductions by the agencies - leading to even less earnings - and are often worse informed than regular workers", says Charles Ho, researcher at Hong Kong based organisation SACOM.

The report reveals also that electronics workers in China face severe discrimination in recruitment on the ground of hepatitis B. Job applicants are required to undergo a medical checkup, and diagnosed hepatitis B leads in general to rejection. This discriminative practice is still common in multinational companies in China, although it is a very common disease and 10 percent of the Chinese population is infected by the virus. In addition, job applicants must cover the cost of these tests by themselves, whether employed or not.   

The legal minimum salary has become the standard, ranging from 72 to 87 euros per month, for a  workweek in the studied factories. The workers worked a substantial amount of overtime; 10 to 11 hours per day, six days per week. Due to the very low wages workers do not have an other option but work inhumane overtime hours and live in factory dormitories without any privacy.

This report is the first study ever on working conditions in the production of game consoles and portable music players, products used mainly by young consumers in developed countries. For many children, videogames may be the first introduction to digital world. Today, a new generation of mobile phones has become the most popular device for playing music on the move in many countries. A half of the portable music players and most game consoles are made in China mostly by big contract manufacturers.

makeITfair investigated labour conditions at four factories that supply for Apple, Microsoft, Motorola, Philips and Sony among others. The research shows that these factories violate national laws and the brand companies' codes of conduct. These factories belong to the biggest electronics contract manufacturers in the world, namely Foxconn, Flextronics and Celestica. The companies were given the opportunity to comment on makeITfair's findings.

Currently, economic recession is tightening its grip causing a reason to worry that the vulnerable workers become hardest hit, once again. Big brand companies continue efforts of driving down  prices. Yet, their suppliers are expected to raise labour and environmental standards at the same time. "These times challenge multinationals and will show which companies are those with true social responsibility", says Eeva Simola, FinnWatch director.