Photo: Foxconn

UK students against sweatshop electronics

Student organisation People and Planet held protests on 10 December 2014 against rights violations of workers in the electronics industry. The protests focused particularly on China, the Philippines and Thailand, among other places.

According to People and Planet such working conditions have led several as young as 18 to take their own lives in desperation.

As one in five computers across Europe are bought by public institutions such as universities, students have been calling on them to use their contracts with electronics-producing brands to push for improvements to workers’ rights.

The protests have also been aiming to encourage public sector bodies to join Electronics Watch, an independent monitoring initiative that enables public institutions to combine their spending power to insist on better working standards in their supply chains.

Electronics Watch have published a report into workers’ conditions in the electronics industry, providing evidence of dangerous levels of occupational disease and accidents, 70-hour weeks, poverty pay and repression of unions.

The report states that: “European states are buying billions worth of ICT equipment that is at high risk of having been produced in violation of basic labour rights. Workers often endure poverty wages, forced overtime, unsafe working conditions, serious health hazards and violations of their associational rights.”

The report also tells of MiYeon Kim, aged 35, from South Korea, who after working in the semiconductor industry for 15 years and two months for Samsung, suffered from cancer and an involuntary abortion.

Ms Kim told the report: “[I noticed that I had] trouble getting pregnant. Eventually, I did [fall pregnant], but it turned out I had a pregnancy-related tumour, so I had to undergo surgery and have an abortion.

The company only gave me five days sick leave after my illness and abortion, so I had to resign. My doctor told me that the disease I contracted while I worked in the semiconductor industry could be related to the working conditions, but he was reluctant to say there was a direct correlation”.

The report also noted that workers in China “reportedly endure 12-hour shifts, six or sometimes seven days a week during peak production periods”.

Auste Cerniauskaite, a student at Birmingham University said: “We’re campaigning to show the level of student support there is for this. We are glad to see our university actively engaging with us on the issue. I hope it joins Electronics Watch and sets an example for other universities to follow.’’


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