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Report on VTech sweatshop implicates AT&T, Motorola, and others in human rights abuses

Report on VTech sweatshop implicates AT&T, Motorola, and others in human rights abuses

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A new report from the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights reveals a chilling portrait of sweatshop working conditions within VTech's electronics factory in Guangdong, China. The company, which manufactures cordless phones and other low-ticket electronics, was shown in the report to be engaging in a sweeping list of labor and human rights violations, implicating other companies like AT&T, Motorola, and retail giant Wal-Mart.

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VTech Factory Workers
VTech Factory Workers

A new report last week from the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights reveals a chilling portrait of sweatshop working conditions within VTech's electronics factory in Guangdong, China. The company was shown in the report to be engaging in a sweeping list of labor and human rights violations while manufacturing cordless phones and other low-ticket electronics for US companies like AT&T, Motorola, and retail giant Walmart.

According to the report, the VTech factory's 10,000 employees are made to work 12-15 hour days, including mandatory overtime that exceeds China's legal limits by between 237 to 273 percent. The workers receive substandard wages — about 6.5 percent of what factory workers earn in the US — and are said to be denied between $7.3 million and $12.3 million in rightfully owed health and social security benefits each year.

"Sometimes I want to die. I work like hell every day for such a dull life."

The report claims that draconian rules and squalid working conditions are said to drive around 80 percent of the factory's workforce to flee annually, and many interviewed in the report say that suicides are common. "If things continue to go like this, there will be more jumpers," said one worker in confidence. "Sometimes I want to die," another reportedly admitted. "I work like hell every day for such a dull life. I can't find a reason to live. Given that living is too tiring, seeking death might not be a silly thing!"

Some of the other details found in the report include:

  • Assembly line workers must race to complete one operation every 2.25 to 2.8 second—17,600 operations a day and 105,600 operations a week
  • Acting as factory police, security guards often beat the workers.
  • Eight workers are housed in each primitive dorm room, sleeping on narrow plywood bunk beds. Workers report, "It's filthy, like living in a pigsty." The workers use small plastic buckets to fetch water to take a sponge-bath. Summer temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving the workers dripping in their own sweat all night.
  • Workers failing to meet their mandatory production goals are forced to keep working without pay.
  • Workers have taken to "Bathroom Democracy," writing on bathroom walls as their only means of free speech. One message reads: "Don't be too cocky as managers. One day you will die at the factory gate." (No managers have been assaulted at VTech. But the workers are filled with anger and resentment at how they are treated.)

"VTech is a nasty and cruel sweatshop, which has been exploiting workers for years," said Charles Kernaghan, director of the organization behind the report. VTech is also a major OEM for hardware companies like Sony and Philips, the sole supplier of corded and cordless phones for Deutsche Telecom and Telstra, and a major supplier for US retailer Walmart. "It is sad that powerful corporations like AT&T, Motorola and Wal-Mart have not lifted a finger to demand that even China's weak labor laws be respected."

Following the report's release, an internal memo revealed that Telstra has ceased selling products manufactured by VTech. A press release sent by VTech in response offers only a blanket statement, saying that the company "categorically rejects these allegations and is now considering taking appropriate legal action."

The Institute provides more information as well as candid photos taken from inside the factory in their report.

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