Dell is latest tech company accused of supplier labor violations in China

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While media coverage of tech industry labor issues in the Far East often highlight Apple's involvement, other major electronics companies contract with the same suppliers. A new report this week now accuses a handful of suppliers for PC maker Dell of hiring underage workers in China.

The report from Danish watchdog group DanWatch claims that factories in Guangdong and Jiangsu have been employing underage workers, verbally abusing them, and requiring them to work long hours for amounts well below China's minimum wage. DanWatch collaborated on the report with China Labor Watch, an organization that has also been a frequent critic of the labor practices of Apple suppliers.

While DanWatch focused on Dell because it supplies computers to the Danish government, the suppliers in question also provide PC components for Asus, HP, Microsoft and Samsung. The report, which was highlighted on Friday by The Verge, claims many of the workers are students who are forced to work between 48 and 136 hours of overtime per month.

Dell responded to the accusations with a post to its official blog to say that it has already begun to take corrective action plans to address issues highlighted by the DanWatch report. The PC maker also plans to conduct a follow-up audit on all serious issues before any actions are considered closed.

"Challenges in the supply chain cannot be solved by one company alone," wrote Trisa Thompson, Dell vice president for corporate responsibility. "The best way to make lasting improvement in the supply chain is to work together with our industry partners to collectively implement accountability measures through third-party audits, common tools and best practices."

The allegations against Dell come just as Apple has found itself linked to yet another supplier accused of labor relations. This week it was said that Flextronics hired indentured servants in the weeks before the release of the iPhone 5, forcing migrant workers to pay more than a half a year's salary —  far more than is allowed by Apple — in order to secure a job in another country.

Worker prepares iPhone for final assembly. | Source: Apple Supplier Responsibility Report

As criticism of foreign labor practices has grown, Apple has stayed proactive on the issue, and became the first technology company to join the Fair Labor Association for independent auditing of its partners in the Far East. The biggest target associated with Apple has been Foxconn, a company that is responsible for assembling a significant portion of the Cupertino, Calif., outfit's products.

Apple also publishes an annual Supplier Responsibility Report, and has continually pressed its suppliers to improve their labor operations over the past few years, going so far as to terminate a contract with one supplier found to be using underage workers. Among Apple's suppliers, 99 percent of the more than one million-strong workforce do not work excessive hours.

Of course, concerns over labor in the Far East are not restricted to Apple and Dell, as other tech companies have also been publicly linked to labor issues in the area. For example, Apple's rival Samsung became the target of a China Labor Watch report last year, and the South Korean electronics maker responded by vowing to fix alleged labor violations.


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