More trouble at’ mill (or Chinese sweatshop)

factoryMore news on the continuing plight of Chinese workers in tech manufacturing plants, and the apparent blind eye the major multinationals are paying to their condition, emerged this week.

Li Qiang, founder of NGO China Labor Watch, claimed to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China on Tuesday that the audits which most MNCs commission aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

He pointed to widespread bribery of auditing firms by the big name companies – basically, they bung a few thousand dollars and the auditors agree not to expose any problems in the factories which might require lots of money to fix.

Although Li didn’t accuse any outright of corruption, Dell, HP, Samsung and Apple were all said to have “severely flawed” auditing systems. He also exposed auditing firm Intertek as having been caugt in the past for accepting bribes.

Said firm has Samsung and Siemens as clients and a lot more tech companies besides.

Now the CECC is most definitely sympathetic to the aims of Li and his counterparts in other NGOs, and one can’t help thinking the reason they’re so keen to expose malpractice in China isn’t to get the workers a better deal but to force such a public outcry that US firms decide to bring jobs back to their homeland.

In fact, it was certainly mentioned several times at the hearing that US workers couldn’t hope to compete against factories where staff are paid a pittance and over-worked to the point of exhauston.

Whatever the motives, though, this needs stuff exposing – factory audits are commonly used by tech companies whose plants are found wanting, as a handy cure-all to keep the media and customers happy.

If they fail, there is literally no point – but we kind of knew that anyway. The only way to change things long term is consumer pressure on companies to improve working conditions followed up by independent and random inspections from NGOs.

Needless to say none of the tech companies above have come back to me.

The lack of response is not just typical of local PR failure – I’ll bite my tongue on that one for the time being – but endemic of the lack of transparency at these big tech brands. If they’re really confident in the conditions at the factories – dismiss such accusations out of hand, invite random inspections etc

Hopefully, as consumers and politicians get more savvy to what’s going on and start to ask more searching questions, these multi-nationals will find it harder to fob them off with the old audit card.

There’s a long way to go yet.

(More entries on this subject can be found here, here and here.)


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