Their plight is not uncommon and is the unfortunate result of treating CSR as a public relations function, focused on appearance and not on substance.
To be credible, CSR needs to be built into the operations of a business, which requires a lot of work. Employees need to feel, if they see a shortcoming, that they ‘own’ the CSR platform and are responsible for maintaining standards.
Furthermore it is not easy establishing and maintaining a credible system of supply chain monitoring to ensure that one’s CSR policies are enforced all the way down the line.
MSI is a Taiwanese manufacturer of motherboards and graphics cards. It has numerous factories including one in Shenzhen, on mainland China’s border with Hong Kong. These circuit boards find their way into Dell and HP computers, amongst others.
Between them, Dell and HP currently account for 30% of new computer sales. There’s a good chance you are reading this on one of their computers … I’m typing it on a Dell; a circuitboard from MSI’s Shenzhen factory could well be sitting inside the computer casing next to my foot.
This month the New York based advocacy centre China Labor Watch published a report identifying significant problems at this factory including:
- Mandatory pregnancy testing
- Mandatory overtime and unpaid hours
- Non-processing of leave applications
- Poor dormitory conditions (e.g. unsanitary bathrooms)
- Restrictions on access to dormitories
- Prohibition of all conversation
- Workers not allowed to use restrooms during work hours
- Wage deductions for minor noncompliances
- Bullying and abuse
None of these are conditions that would be tolerated at Dell factories in the USA. Circuit board manufacture has been outsourced to China for cost reasons. However this is not an argument about wage costs, it’s about treatment of workers. It doesn’t cost extra to speak to somebody respectfully. Or to let them use the bathroom, for that matter.
These problems are endemic in factories in the Pearl River Delta. However, as China Labor Watch pointed out, merely accepting it flies in the face of the policies of MSI, Dell and HP.
Dell’s Code of Conduct for example includes commitments that the companydoes not tolerate discrimination, including on the grounds of pregnancy (page 3) and is committed to employee health and safety (page 4). Both Dell and HP have also committed to the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) Code of Conduct, which forbids deductions from wages as a disciplinary measure.
Not good enough, guys.
Source: Dell, HP, and NEC Supplier Factory Case Study: MSI Computer (Shenzhen) Co., Ltd., China Labor Watch report, February 2011