Still from Google's video tour of electronics supplier Flex's China factory © Google
Still from Google's video tour of electronics supplier Flex's China factory © Google

Google uses VR to show supplier transparency

Google has produced a series of virtual reality (VR) videos which purportedly show what life is like working for two of its suppliers in Africa and China.

The 360 degree videos, which were published alongside its 2018 Responsible Supply Chain report, claim to put viewers in the shoes of workers at an electronics factory in China and a gold mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In China, the video follows Wang Chao, a 27-year-old factory worker for Flex, an electronics supplier. Wearing a VR camera headset, Chao also narrated the video, saying: “I like to work here and I have been here for many years”.

She is one of around 40,000 workers at the plant in Zhuhai, in southern China. “I chose to join this factory because people said this factory was better and the benefits were good,” she said.

Later on, other employees are heard saying things such as, “We have the right to working in a healthy and safe environment”, and, “We have a right to be respected”.

Another video, released in September, follows a day in the life of Congolese workers at a formerly illegal mine in Nyamurhale, which is now one of just three conflict-free artisanal gold mines in the DRC, according to Google.

In 2012, a BBC investigation exposed the mine as one of the many illegal sites supporting the conflict minerals industry in the country.

Google said the video was “a glimpse into the lives and conditions of those working at a low-tech, small-scale gold mine in Nyamurhale”.

In the report, Google said it found at least 56 instances of suppliers overworking their employees, as a result of audits in 2017.

In 44 supplier audits last year, the company found 399 “non-conformities” within its supply chain, 19% of which related to employees working “excessive hours” (over 60 per week) or more than six consecutive days without rest.

The company said the majority of non-conformities found were with new hardware suppliers.

“When we find that a supplier is not conforming to our expectations, we expect the supplier to provide a corrective action plan that outlines the root cause of the finding, how and when that company will resolve the issue, and what steps will be taken to prevent recurrence,” it said.

Currently, 14% of these corrections are still in progress, while 86% have been resolved.  

“Working hours and health and safety continue to be important focus areas across our industry; we also see these as primary opportunities for improvement when engaging with new Google suppliers,” said the company.

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