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IBM Notebook: Chinese factory like slavery, report says

Times Hearld-Record  |  February 9, 2009  |  Share  |  Source article

February 09, 2009

By Christine Young

Weblink: http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090209/BIZ/902090316

Chinese factory workers making keyboards for IBM and other American companies are treated little better than slaves, according to a 60-page report released Thursday by The National Labor Committee.

The report, "High Tech Misery in China," describes horrendous sweatshop conditions at the Dongguan Meitai Plastics & Electronics Factory in southern China, which produces keyboards for IBM, Lenovo, Dell, HP and Microsoft.

"This is dehumanization," said NLC Director Charles Kerrigan. "If it's not slavery, it's very close."

Prompted by the report, IBM says it is reviewing its relationship with the factory, where, the NLC alleges:

# Employees work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, with just two days off a month, for 41 cents an hour.
# Workers sit on hard, backless stools as 500 keyboards an hour move down the assembly line.
# Workers are locked in the factory compound four days a week, prohibited from taking a walk.

"This factory is very frightening in the sense that management tries to control every second, every movement of the workers' lives," said Kerrigan.

There are 1.4 million electronic assembly jobs left in the U.S. that may be lost to China, according to the NLC.

"Companies the size of IBM like these countries because they're authoritarian," Kerrigan said. "They produce for much less and work longer hours under primitive conditions. IBM is there for a reason, and it's clearly not because they're in love with the Chinese people and culture."

IBM spokesman Doug Shelton said the company will do an audit to see if the factory complies with Big Blue's supplier-conduct principles.

"The other named companies are also looking into this in the same manner," Shelton said. "We intend to assemble the facts ... and address this issue with the supplier or suppliers involved."

The NLC is not asking the companies to pull out of China or out of the Meitai factory, but to demand higher standards, Kerrigan said.

"IBM has a responsibility to be especially vigilant because there's no safety net for these workers," he said. "They're in a trap, and IBM should not milk that trap. If this is happening in this factory, it's happening in others. They're going to have to step up to the plate to make sure their presence doesn't facilitate prison-like labor."

Christine Young covers IBM. She can be reached at 346-3140 or [email protected]. IBM Notebook appears Mondays.

Meitai Factory report

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