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February 13, 2013

HP: China or Bust

Computer company Hewlett Packard is limiting its Chinese factories from overworking student and temporary agency workers. This move follows the trend of electronics companies becoming more aware of where their products are manufactured and limiting unethical labor practices.

The factories rely on high school, vocational school and temporary workers to cope with shortages of workers while the schools and governments exacerbate the issue. Students report that school administrators make them work long hours at irrelevant jobs while local governments tell the schools to supply workers. Factories entice schools to send students their way with monetary bonuses.

Apple was the first major electronics company to join the Fair Labor Associate, which monitors workplaces for safety and fair labor practices. Apple (News - Alert) said that it would start requiring it suppliers to provide information on student workers. The electronics manufacturer came under heavy fire once news of one of their suppliers, Foxconn, required long hours, little pay and had conditions so poor that workers routinely attempted suicide.

H.P.’s rules are much more aggressive, stating that student workers can only work at the factories at their own free will as well as be able “to leave work at any time upon reasonable notice without negative repercussions, and they must have access to reliable and reprisal-free grievance mechanisms,” the company said. Student jobs must also be beneficial to their area of study.

Due to China’s one-child policy, there has been a shrinking labor pool. With a rapidly growing and urbanizing country, China struggles to find enough workers to fulfill the demands of a growing middle-class. Chinese labor laws are often ignored.

H.P. will meet with suppliers, government officials, nongovernment organizations and academics to help them comply with their new rules. As these new rules would limit student and temporary labor during peak production times, it will also limit a company’s ability to increase work output.

“This is a compromise,” Tony Prophet said, H.P. senior vice president for worldwide supply chain operations.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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