In an attempt to address the on-going problem of underage workers in electronic factories in China, HP has taken a strong new stance against labour abuses. The manufacturer is now mandating that all student work must be voluntary, students must be free to come and go as they please and that no more than 20% of a factory’s workforce may be comprised of interns during peak periods.
The company told the New York Times that it aims to reduce the level of underage workers to 10% in the future, as well as allow the students to “leave work at any time upon reasonable notice without negative repercussions” and provide them with “access to reliable and reprisal-free grievance mechanism”.
The new restrictions are designed to ensure that students aren’t exploited under the guise of forced ‘internships’, as schools are sometimes paid to send their students to work at the factories. To this end, HP now requires that only students who are primarily studying in related fields (like manufacturing or computer technology) can work in its Chinese factories.
Underage labour is a topic that has been an increasingly important corporate focus recently, as manufacturing giant Foxconn has dominated headlines for suspicious labour practices and Apple’s own investigation found that 11 of its suppliers’ facilities used underage workers — one supplier employed 74 children under the age of 16 in a factory in China’s Guangdong province.
As schoolgoers are often brought on board during holidays and periods of high demand for new products (like the latest new iSomething), HP says it will be revising its product demand forecasts to try to ensure it doesn’t need to resort to taking on more student labour during peak seasons. It says that Foxconn — which manufactures its products for the Chinese market — will also have to comply with the new regulations.
But HP won’t have an easy job introducing the new restrictions — as veteran Silicon Valley journalist Tom Foremski points out, it’s difficult to monitor and enforce the regulations. Last year, Foxconn admitted to employing children as young as 14 in its factories, who were recruited by schools and hired on their recommendations. The company’s employees failed to verify that the students were in fact over China’s legal working age of 16.