Hewlett-Packard is forcing its Chinese suppliers to limit their use of student and temporary labor. The new rules, reported by The New York Times Friday, indicate HP is joining Apple in taking a stand on labor abuse, as the tech industry grows increasingly concerned about being tainted by Chinese practices.
HP wants to separate itself from the use of student labor in assembly factories when sudden spikes in orders lead to labor shortages. With the help of local governments, manufacturers round up high school students, vocational school students and temporary workers. Students complain that school administrators order them to do the work, which often involves long hours and lower pay and have no relevance to the students' studies. As an incentive, factories will pay school administrators a bonus for sending them cheap labor on short notice.
Wisely, HP wants no part of this, and has told its suppliers that all work on its orders must be voluntary and students and temporary workers must be free to leave without repercussions. In addition, the work has to be related to a student's studies, a rule that likely will give most students a way out if factory work isn't to their liking.
By imposing the rules, HP hopes to avoid the kind of scandal that sullied Apple's reputation last year. Labor abuse at supplier Foxconn led Apple to join the workplace-monitoring group Fair Labor Association, which inspects Chinese factories making computers, iPhones and other devices for Apple.
Lessons Learned From Apple
Apple's troubles had an impact on HP, Intel and other electronics companies. Many started to look at overhauling their relationships with foreign factories and workers, according to The Times.
"The days of easy globalization are done," an Apple executive who requested anonymity told the newspaper. "We know that we have to get into the muck now."
How much impact the actions of HP or other tech companies will have on workplaces in China is unclear. Some manufacturers ignore Chinese laws on labor practices in order to meet customer demand amid labor shortages in the country.
Nevertheless, HP has decided to try and avoid having its reputation dragged through the mud of China's labor injustices.
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