Long-term deals can prevent labour violations

29 July 2011

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29 July 2011 | Angeline Albert

Purchasers should sign long-term contracts with suppliers to mitigate the risk of staff experiencing “inhuman” working conditions in factories.

That was the message from Traidcraft which promotes fair trade for workers, in response to a report that employees in electronics manufacturing plants in China are enduring excessive overtime hours and other poor working practices.

Investigations by China Labor Watch (CLW) between October 2010 to June 2011 at electronics factories in China’s Guangdong and Jiangsu provinces uncovered excessive working hours, especially during the peak manufacturing season from September to January, when purchasing orders are at their highest.

Paul Spray, director of policy at Traidcraft, which publishes responsible purchasing reports in conjunction with CIPS, said: “It’s mostly a question of following International Labour Organization conventions. When purchasers are buying from Chinese companies, it is in their interests to put suppliers on reasonably long contracts. This gives an assurance to suppliers that they will get long-term orders, which will make them more likely to hire a workforce for longer and not temporary workers. They will then be more likely to implement reasonable labour practices.”

Spray said procurement teams should also be very clear about what they want in the terms of the contract. They should also listen to the needs of suppliers to avoid risks being passed down the supply chain.

CLW’s report, Tragedies of Globalization: The Truth Behind Electronics Sweatshops, published earlier this month, revealed staff were required to work between 36 and 160 hours of overtime per month.

Among the “inhuman” practices uncovered included those with “a high level of labour intensity”. In one case workers were required to complete their assigned task every three seconds, while having to stand for a ten-hour period.

“As both multinational brand companies and Chinese manufactures seek to reduce purchasing and manufacturing costs to the lowest level possible, the safety and well being of Chinese factory workers is sacrificed,” said CLW.

It added a “race-to-the-bottom” of order prices comes at a severe cost to the average Chinese factory worker, as their wages significantly decrease and their working conditions worsen.

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