Hewlett-Packard Co. Friday (Feb. 8) introduced new labor guidelines for student and dispatch workers at its suppliers with operations in China. Call it a small step in the right direction.
HP said it set the guidelines "in an effort to proactively address the significant increase in the use of student and dispatch workers—such as temporary, auxiliary and substitute workers—in manufacturing facilities across China."
Like Apple, HP likely felt the heat coming from advocacy groups campaigning to improve worker rights in China. HP said its guidelines were developed in consultation with China's Center for Child Rights and Corporate Responsibility. The guidelines also reinforce existing regulatory requirements and introduce expectations that go beyond regulations for HP's suppliers, the company said.
"HP has a history of leadership in proactively addressing labor issues and driving supply chain improvements," said Tony Prophet, HP's senior vice president for worldwide supply chain operations, in a statement. "We have worked closely with leading Chinese stakeholders to develop our new student and temporary worker guidelines to ensure the highest standards of ethical workforce management."
Among the guidelines: all work must be voluntary, local regulations much be reinforced or exceeded, suppliers must limit the number of student workers they use and student work must also complement the students' primary area of study, HP said.
HP said it is asking suppliers to comply with the guidelines immediately. The company plans to measure the suppliers though ongoing audits as well as the company's performance indicator program, which regularly collects key social and environmental responsibility performance information on suppliers.
Obviously the situation in the U.S. is different than in China, but that first one seems rather incredulous. Work must be voluntary? Really? Isn't there a term we use for forced labor?
HP explains: "Student and temporary workers shall be free to leave work at any time upon reasonable notice without negative repercussions, and they must have access to reliable and reprisal-free grievance mechanisms."
Like Apple, HP should be applauded for taking this small, tentative step toward improving conditions in China for the workers building its products. But like Apple, HP isn't doing this to promote fair labor standards any more than it is trying to protect itself from consumer backlash (which for the most part isn't there yet). It's unfortunate that things that we may perceive as basic human rights still need to be written down and codified. Related stories:
"suppliers must limit the number of student workers they use and student work must also complement the students' primary area of study, HP said."
Imagine if U.S. employers or their customers enforced such a policy here. It is preferable, of course, for students to get private employer internships or on-campus jobs that are related to their field of study. Many students don't get those, however, and simply need to work to make money and pay bills -- whether the job is fast food, waiting tables or whatever.
I'd like to ask my fellow engineers here, what kind of non-engineering-related jobs did you have when you were a student? I'll go first: cashier at a gas station/convenience store during freshman & sophomore years. Later I got a job with the EE department as a teaching assistant, but I'm grateful that there was no policy to protect me from being "exploited" by working at a job unrelated to my field of study, or limiting the number of students that employer was allowed to hire!