Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

HP Moves Towards 'Fair Trade' Electronics Manufacture

Posted by Tom Foremski - February 7, 2013

Hewlett-Packard has issued new rules to its China based suppliers that affect students working in their factories.

Keith Bradsher and David Barboza, report in the New York Times:

 Hewlett-Packard Joins Push to Limit Use of Student Labor in China

Its rules, given to suppliers in China on Friday morning, say that all work must be voluntary, and that students and temporary workers must 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," according to the company.

The rules also require that student work "must complement the primary area of study" -- a restriction that could rule out huge numbers of students whose studies have nothing to do with electronics or manufacturing.

HP is reacting to reports that school students are sometimes told to work in local factories by teachers and local governments, and that it often has nothing to do with their course of study.

Apple joined the Fair Labor Association last year as part of its response to critics of its manufacturing outsourcer Foxconn.

Foremski's Take: HP's rules will be difficult to monitor or enforce. However, all journeys begin with a small step and the eventual outcome will be a type of "Fair Trade" standard for electronics products. 

The eventual rise of unions and living standards in China and other countries will also help tackle the problem of young workers being exploited, and unsustainable working conditions in factories.

Any rise in labor costs due to better working conditions, would likely be minimal and partly offset by the continuing decline in prices for chips and other electronic components.

There would be considerable cachet for the first US "Fair Trade" computer company. Apple has generous profit margins that could easily absorb any cost increases from such a move. HP not so much.

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