Wake Up Call

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.

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (pcea.net). He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow

2 thoughts on “Wake Up Call

  1. I simply don’t understand how you can casually dismiss that these practices occur in Southeast Asia, but are troublesome when they occur “close to home”. We should be outraged period.

  2. Ed, with all due respect, what makes you think I “casually dimiss” what’s happening abroad?

    On the contrary, I’m the only one in this industry’s media to call out Foxconn and others for their gross hypocrisy and treatment of their workers. In fact, after criticizing Foxconn founder Terry Guo in such column, a well-known industry veteran confided that my safety might be compromised the next time I go to China (I have since been, with no incidents.)

    Some examples:
    “Foxconn’s Big Con”: http://circuitsassembly.com/cms/content/view/5374/95/
    “The Enemy Within”: http://circuitsassembly.com/blog/?p=141

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