By Mark Osborn
CAFOD (Catholic campaigning organisation) have produced a a useful, detailed, expose of the terrible working conditions, harassment and poverty pay faced by electronics workers, making computer parts, in Mexico, Thailand and China.
Thailand is the world's second largest producer of hard disc drives. A Thai worker making these drives, that end up in computers sold by companies like Dell earns around £2.50 per day. They do not receive sick pay or holiday pay (in contravention of Thai law). Sub-contracted workers were reported as looking tired and ill, and if workers become pregnant, they are sacked.
In contrast, Michael Dell, the CEO of Dell, earned £134,000 per day in 2003. Dell is the 24th richest person in the world, with an estimated personal wealth of US $16.5 billion; his company had revenues of US $ 31billion in 2001.
In Guadalajara, Mexico, CAFOD found humiliating recruitment practices by the employment agencies supplying contract workers for the computer industry. One woman, Monica, was recruited by a contract manufacturer for an assembly line in a company making printers for Hewlett Packard. Monica was forced to strip, including taking off her underwear, then examined by people who said they were looking for tattoos. She was forced to take a pregnancy test.
Monica said, "It was the worst thing I have ever had to go through. But I didn't know how to complain - I mean they were doing the same thing to everyone."
CAFOD found that reasons for rejection by Mexican recruitment agencies included: "Homosexual; more than two tattoos; father is a lawyer; has brought labour claims; worked for a union; pregnancy; does not agree with IBM policies."
Once employed, workers face long shifts on low pay in illegal short-term contracts that lack holidays, health, pension, and employment benefits. One worker at an IBM factory said she was even refused time off when her father died.
Workers face blacklisting if they complain. Days after three Guadalajara workers spoke to CAFOD about their treatment, they were fired.
In China, in Dongguan, electronics workers earn a basic monthly wage of US $37. They can only earn the legal minimum wage (of US $54) by working overtime. In peak season they will work for 15-16 hours a day, seven days a week.
Workers can be exposed to dangerous chemicals, smoke, metal dust and loud noise. Assembly-line workers are expected to stand, working, for 11 hours. A manager comments, "There are plenty of girls with good eyes and strong hands. If we run out of people, we just go deeper into China."
Free trade unions are ruthlessly repressed in China and the CAFOD report rightly concludes, "One important reason for low labour standards in the computer industry is the absence of effective trade unions." CAFOD calls for the computer giants to implement codes of conduct based on ILO conventions and for the UK government to "consider companies policies and practices in relation to supply-chain labour rights when awarding procurement contracts."