Telstra/Australia Takes the High Road: Pulls Sweatshop VTech Phones from Store Shelves

June, 24 2012 Share


Telstra/Australia Takes the High Road
Pulls Sweatshop VTech Phones from Store Shelves
AT&T, Motorola, Deutsche Telekom/Germany, Philips and Sony
Should Follow Suit 

June 24, 2012
Statement by Charles Kernaghan, Director
Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights


Telstra's principled action may raise the bar across China, improving respect for human rights and working conditions.

The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights is more than willing to engage in a productive meeting with VTech representatives at any time.

The scarcity of independent women's, human and worker rights organizations in China makes it extremely difficult to openly investigate repressive factories such as VTech.  Workers have nowhere to turn for help.  The government-run and moribund All China Federation of Trade Unions has never functioned as an independent union to protect and enforce even China's minimal laws.

Moreover, when foreign or even Chinese-speaking auditors travel to factories like VTech to conduct audits of working conditions, their hands are largely tied.  The workers have no reason to trust that the auditors can effectively help them.  Workers know the routine very well.  Before the monitors arrive, they are coached by management to lie about conditions, parroting that working conditions, hours, production goals, treatment by supervisors and managers, dorm and cafeteria conditions are all well above average.  Of course, the shop floors, dorms and cafeteria are also cleaned and spruced up.

Under such conditions it is extremely difficult if not impossible for foreign monitors to accurately audit factory conditions.

Unannounced spot visits and walk-throughs by well trained, senior independent monitors could shed new light on factory, dorm and cafeteria conditions.

It should also be possible to contract highly trained professional, independent Chinese-speaking auditors - who are living outside China - to periodically monitor factory conditions and over the course of six months draw up a thorough remediation plan to bring VTech into compliance with China's labor laws and - one would hope - the International Labor Organization's core internationally recognized worker rights standards.

The most important step necessary to bring VTech into compliance with China's minimal labor laws is also the most controversial.  As mentioned, the government-run All China Federation of Trade Unions has never acted as a real union or in any way struggled to improve the rights of workers.  In light of this, VTech's workers must have the right to meet in safe locations with highly-trained, independent and trusted monitors, with a 100 percent guarantee of no reprisals against any worker speaking the truth.   This will take time as the workers struggle to find their voice.  International solidarity from the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and other countries will be critical.

It would also be important to establish a confidential telephone Hotline where workers can report to independent monitors regarding abusive and illegal behavior by supervisors and mid-level managers.  This would be especially critical for those young workers who feel trapped and may be contemplating a suicide jump from their dorms.  The hotline must be run by professional independent monitors.


VTech Sweatshop in China - AT&T, Motorola, Wal-Mart and others