4 February 2004 Computer giants Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM have admitted that they need to do more to improve pay and conditions for their workers in developing countries after the publication of a damning survey by the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (Cafod).
It found that workers in all three of the companies’ outsourced factories had to endure “dire working conditions”, including discrimination, harassment, illegal rates of pay, unfair contracts and widespread exposure to health risks.
“The current situation is unacceptable. Its products may embody the latest the latest in high technology, but labour standards in computer manufacturing can be surprisingly low,” said Katherine Astill, Cafod’s private sector analyst.
Although the companies named insisted that they had always taken the welfare of all their workers seriously — both directly employed and employed in their supply chains — they vowed to tackle the issues raised by Cafod.
“We thank Cafod for bringing this to our attention,” said an IBM spokesman. Dell’s director of public affairs Barry French told the BBC that the company viewed the news as a “wake-up call” in order to “ensure that we continue to focus on this really important area”.
Conditions in factories in China, Mexico and Thailand were highlighted as especially bad.
Health and safety issues, in particular, are widely ignored in those countries. For example, solvents in factories in China were being used without proper safety precautions, said Cafod’s Nina Wong who carried out the research in the region. Furthermore, many workers were found to be on just “two-thirds of the minimum wage”.
The report has helped shame the companies mentioned into action. Dell has outlined an “agenda for change” to ensure its global suppliers understand its “core principles”. And an IBM spokesperson said that the company plans to update its supplier agreements.
Governments also have a role to play, suggests Cafod, by encouraging companies to improve their practices and by taking the issues into account when awarding IT contracts.