4 February 2004

These companies should be providing at least a minimum of human rights

Dell, IBM, Hewlett Packard and others who've moved computer construction to locales in developing nations.
There is almost no public awareness of the human reality behind the electronic devices people use daily. Non-governmental organisations have alerted people to the idea that a “Made in China” label on their clothes may point to dreadful working conditions. But who believes this of electronics workers? The workers themselves know that their conditions are remote from the consciousness of consumers, and they feel alone. When I interviewed Monica in Guadalajara, Mexico, she told me simply: “No one knows what is happening to electronics workers. It is as if the problem didn’t exist. But I have lived through it, and I know the truth.”

Experiences like Monica’s have been made public this week in a report by the Catholic aid agency Cafod on working conditions on the computer assembly lines. The report, “Clean Up Your Computer”, does not make for happy reading. It finds vast production lines in Third World countries where workers on illegal contracts are paid below what we would consider to be survival level for work in degrading and sometimes dangerous conditions. In China a worker who makes a mistake may be forced to wear a red coat in ritual humiliation. In Mexico or Thailand a woman found to be pregnant is likely to be sacked. The report looks at factories in all three countries.