More Thanh Words

"My name is Thanh and I'm a Blogger". Now that I have admitted to that, I can say that I'm a stereotypical "geeky" Engineer who enjoys sci-fi books and movies and into all things technological. I also love music and have a passion for FOOD. I'm a social person and like to talk to people. I hate people who are fake or overly aggressive. If you're also into some serious discussion, with a pinch of sarcasm and a dash of real emotion, then please read on.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Nokia: A Decent Factory?

I just watched a documentary on tv about one of Nokia's supplier factory located in China. Two worker's ethics advisors were contracted by Nokia to assess this factory in China that made the charger for Nokia.

Basically the documentary showed these two advisors walking around the factory and asking the obligatory questions. They discussed about working standards, pay, living conditions and any other issues facing the workers. Some workers were interviewed to give their opinions on the working conditions.

What I saw was appalling. The workers work a 12 hour day with overtime on "most days" as the supervisor said, but he might as well have said everyday because that was the reality. The workers are only paid about 500 Yuan a month, less than $100 AUD. They then had their pay deducted by 150 Yuan for food and lodging at the factory, which is compulsory. They also get further deductions to their pay if they are late or lose their ID cards even. What's worse is that their pay is incorrectly calculated to include all the overtime and on a 26 day working month so that they all seem to be getting minimum wage, when in fact they aren't if you deduct the overtime and calculate the wage on the proper 21 working days a month.

The workers, mainly female, live in the dorms with 8 sharing a tiny room. They are forbidden to keep food in their room and fraternisation with men is definitely not allowed. Any woman found to be pregnant would be fired or forced to have an abortion. (What century are we living in? Its only a job, not a prison.) The two advisors hear this and instead of saying what an atrocity, they say that they've heard worse in other countries.

The conclusion that the advisors found was that the factory was quite good with only a few issues. One minor issue was that some chemicals were stored near drinking water, which was rectified. They also "suggested" that the amount of overtime being done by the workers should be looked at, as Nokia don't want their workers to work more than the law allows. Finally, probationary worker's pay should be increased so that its above the minimum wage, which was done.

After watching the documentary, all I can say is thank heavens I live in Australia and work in a country where there actually are ethical standards. I guess when you have no options and survival is an issue, you would have to put up with terrible conditions and live with it. If the same working conditions were applied in Australia, there would be mass walk outs in all companies around the country.

What disturbed me most about the whole documentary was the superficiality of the whole exercise. Why does Nokia even bother, oh I know why, to please their investors and shareholders into thinking they run a humane company. What I hate is how big corporations try to put a spin on these terrible conditions by saying that they've had ethical reviews and everything is fine. It all comes down to money, whether I or you like it or not. If paying a tiny amount for the advisors meant they got a good report saying their company complies to ethical standards, the resultant sale of humanely produced products would more than compensate them. I'm not picking on just Nokia, I'm sure all major corporations do it. There are many stories of Nike and their sweatshops. I guess it all boils down to the fact that they can. What are we going to do, boycott Nokia and Nike products and buy Ericsson and Adidas. Would that change anything, I doubt it. Ericsson and Adidas probably are just as bad. There will always be inequality and exploitation in nations where jobs are hard to get and having one means life and death literally. Lets just be grateful of our privledged working conditions.


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