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IT supplier blasted for exploiting its workers

FIVE global information technology giants said yesterday they will cooperate with an investigation into allegations that one of their hardware suppliers in south China made its employees work a back-breaking schedule under "dehumanizing" conditions.

The China offices of IBM, Microsoft, Dell, Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard told Shanghai Daily that they welcome a probe into accusations by a US-based non-government group spotlighting substandard working conditions at Meitai Plastic and Electronics Co, a producer of computer equipment for the five firms in Dongguan City, Guangdong Province.

Audit ordered

The tech giants all emphasized that Meitai, which manufactures keyboards and printer cases and is owned by Taiwan entrepreneurs, was a subcontractor and that none of them had any direct business with the factory in Dongguan's Changping County. The intermediary contractor was not identified.

The US-based Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition, a self-regulating body composed of 30 global tech firms, said it will carry out a third-party audit of the working conditions at the factory.

The five firms are members of the coalition, which aims to improve working conditions and environmental stewardship throughout the electronics supply chain, according to the group's Website.

The original report targeting the problems was released this month by the US National Labor Committee, a non-government group based in the US state of Pennsylvania. It said workers were required to sit on hard wooden stools for 12-hour shifts seven days a week, as 500 computer keyboards moved down the assembly line each hour.

The workers were reportedly allowed just 1.1 seconds to snap each key into place, repeating the same operation 3,250 times an hour for a salary of less than 3 yuan (44 US cents) an hour.

Overtime at Meitai was mandatory, the report said. Employees worked 80.5 hours a week, including 40.5 hours of forced overtime, which exceeds China's legal limit by 388 percent, it noted. On average, workers were allowed only two days off per month.

Employees at Meitai were not given state-mandated work injury, health care or maternity insurance, according to the document. In the molding department, workers suffered skin rashes due to excessive heat, the report said.

Ten to 12 workers shared each dorm room, sleeping on narrow metal bunks, the report said. In winter, workers had to walk down several floors to get hot water, which they carried back to their rooms for sponge baths.

They were confined to the factory compound four days a week and were not allowed to take walks without permission. The report quoted one worker as saying that workers had to beg the boss if they wanted to go out on a date.

"I feel like I'm serving a prison sentence," one worker told the researchers.


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