“I am forced to be here, or else I will not graduate. I hate it here and today I am on the night shift. I have to work till tomorrow morning. We are many students working at night”, said Wang Fang [not her real name] a 19 year old intern at Wistron Corporation in Zhongshan, China.
Working long hours to receive a diplomaWang Fang is one of thousands of students interning at Wistron Corporation. She was interviewed by journalists of Danwatch, a Danish independent media and research center, who investigated the supply chain of servers purchased by European universities and other higher education institutions. They penned down their findings in the report Servants of Servers which was published by GoodElectronics.
Danwatch found that students are sent to the Wistron Corporation by their schools to intern for 3 to 5 months. The students' work is no different from that of the regular laborers, doing monotonous shifts at the assembly line for 10-12 hours a day, six days a week including overtime and night shifts. If they refuse the internship they risk not receiving their diploma. For many students the internship isn't relevant to their studies. Wang Fang, for instance, is an accountancy student. Although students receive wages for their work, they are not provided with welfare benefits and insurances like the regular workers.
Social responsibilityWistron manufactures servers for Dell, HP and Lenovo, all in the top five of companies selling servers to universities in Europe. These institutions have spent more than € 4 billion on ICT hardware and software so far in 2015 and € 461 million on servers alone. Electronics Watch is asking educational institutions to become more socially responsible when buying electronics. The non-profit calls on public institutions to use their purchasing power to improve human rights and sustainability in the global electronics supply chain. Since they are spending public money they have an extra obligation to critically assess their supply chain for sustainability and human rights violations, says Electronics Watch.
Dell: rights violatedDanwatch reached out to Dell, HP and Lenovo to present them with the report's findings. HP and Dell responded by sending auditing teams of their own to Wistron. Dell acknowledged that “several intern workers rights are being violated” and HP conceded there were “gaps in the internship programmes”, according to the report. Both companies asked Wistron to temporarily refrain from placing student workers on their assembly line, until the situation for interns is improved.
Lenovo refused to comment on the specific issues but instead send a boilerplate reply: “Lenovo is strongly committed to treating its employees with respect and fairness, and protecting their health and safety”. It informed Danwatch it will conduct an audit in the upcoming months and said: “Lenovo will review the findings carefully, and should this audit find any areas of non-compliance, we will insist Wistron take aggressive measures, consistent with our policies and standards, to correct them”.
Image: Wistron campus. Source: Danwatch