Some cereal goes well with milk. CEREAL goes better with a big dose of antacid.
CEREAL, or the Centre for Reflection and Action on Labour Issues, calls itself a Mexican worker rights agency (I believe the group is a unionizer, which gives me mixed feelings). Like a union, CEREAL provides legal assistance, labor rights training and workers’ groups support. But it also compiles and publishes eye-opening research on working conditions
The group’s latest report, which summarizes worker claims made in 2006-07, isn’t something you’d want to digest on an empty stomach. In it, the group claims hundreds of violations of poor treatment by companies such as Foxconn, Solectron, Sanmina-SCI, Nokia and others. In one case, a company that implemented Lean manufacturing took away all its workers’ chairs. The report claims the company says this made the workers more productive and less likely to fall asleep. The workers — some of whom were pregnant, and who are typically paid less than $10 a day, responded that having to stand for 8 hours a day made them even more tired. And it appears the standard way of doing business is to hire thousands of employees as temps, and repeatedly let them go whenever business dips. That’s an easy way to keep overhead down, but it’s not going to meet anyone’s definition of humane management practices.
Why should we in the US, Canada and Europe care? Because these are functions that were at one time performed in the West, and as manufacturing migrates abroad it appears those responsible are seeking more than just low labor costs. Companies can’t get away with such nonsense in regions where laws are applied and lawyers are plenty.
We take for granted that such corporate behavior, no matter how despicable, happens in Southeast Asia. But we should hold our industry’s collective feet to the fire to ensure such things are not happening so close to home. For if OEMs were actually to start living up to their high-minded sense of corporate responsibility and stewardship, we might begin to reverse the flow of manufacturing offshore.