Response: VTech Is Not “A Responsible and Caring Employer”
July 11, 2012 | Share
We have watched as VTech has repeatedly claimed to be a "responsible and caring employer wherever it operates, and this includes mainland China." VTech also claims to "abide strictly by the legal requirements relating to employment in all jurisdictions where it operates." VTech's stated goal is to emphasize "...people-oriented management to ensure harmonious staff relations." VTech also touts its "excellent human resources management" and "long track record of good labour relations." (VTech. Media Statement. 22 June 2012)
Unfortunately, after another review of VTech's operations, the Institute has once again been unable to find any concrete evidence at all that VTech is a "responsible and caring employer."
We will explain in detail why we have taken this position. As we have stated numerous times, the Institute is more than willing to meet seriously with VTech management at any time.
It seems certain that the corporations sourcing production at VTech - AT&T, Motorola, Philips, Deutsche Telekom, Telstra, Sony and Wal-Mart - must adopt a more proactive, concrete and serious stance if conditions are to measurably improve at the VTech sweatshop.
1.) Excessive Mandatory Overtime Is a Fact:
Very little has changed at VTech. Today, VTech workers are still required to put in 11.6 to 12.1 hour shifts, six or seven days a week. Working six days a week, workers are at the factory 70 hours a week, while those toiling seven days a week are at the factory 85 hours. On top of the regular eight-hour shift, workers are kept for 2.5 to 3 hours of overtime each day. At the low end, a worker toiling 10.5 hours six days a week will exceed China's legal limit on overtime by 177 percent! 1
Many VTech production line workers are currently working seven days a week, putting in at least two Sundays a month on top of the routine six-day workweek.
At the extreme, toiling 11 hours a day, seven days a week, they would be working 77 hours a week, including 37 hours of overtime, which would exceed China's legal limit on permissible overtime by 345 percent!
2.) Forced Overtime Is the Rule. But There Is Also Another Incentive to Work Excessive Overtime - VTech's Poverty-level Wages:
When you are earning a regular base wage of just 1200 RMB per month - which amounts to just $1.09 (USD) an hour - you are making below subsistence-level wages. No one can survive-even with the cheapest and most primitive cafeteria and dorm conditions-working just eight hours a day, five days a week for a regular 40-hour workweek.
Workers can only survive by piling on lots of overtime hours. It is not "voluntary." Rather, in real life, it is a necessity.
VTech management can hand out all the "application for voluntary work" forms they want, but this does not make the excessive overtime any less illegal. To cover up the obligatory and excessive overtime, VTech management prints tens of thousands of "Application for Voluntary Overtime Work" forms, which supervisors distribute to the workers to fill out and sign.
Under China's labor laws - and VTech clearly knows this - workers are strictly prohibited from working more than 36 hours of overtime on any given month. This is the law. Moreover, all overtime work must be voluntary, and not forced.
3.) The "Employee Welfare Committee" is exposed:
On June 25, 2012, VTech management fired off a statement defending the quality of the food served in its workers' cafeteria.
"Steamed rice is provided at no additional charge and on an unlimited basis. Employees' Welfare Committees check the food for quality regularly. They also organize workers to monitor the quality of the food in order to achieve continuous improvement."
This sounds reassuring. However, in recent interviews with a small sample of workers, less than 40 percent had ever heard of any such "Employee Welfare Committee" and those who had heard of it had absolutely no trust in them.
The "Employee Welfare Committee [is] a stooge for the company" we were told. "It always helps to justify the company's practices."
It is important to now point out that members of the "Employee Welfare Committee" do not eat in the workers' cafeteria. Instead, they eat in the cafeteria set aside for management.
One thing is for certain. VTech management would never allow workers to organize an independent body of any sort to monitor the quality of the workers' cafeteria. VTech does not allow any form of independent organizing.
4.) VTech Certainly Appears to Be Violating China's Social Security Laws:
AT&T, Motorola, Philips, Deutsche Telekom, Telstra, Sony and Wal-Mart should ask VTech management to provide concrete documentation guaranteeing that VTech is in full compliance with China's social security laws.
It appears that VTech withholds social security benefits for its workers for at least the first six months of their employment, or even longer. And when VTech management finally gets around to paying into the workers' social security fund, they shortchange the workers by paying the insurance premium based only on the local minimum wage. By law, social security insurance premiums should be based on total compensation, including overtime, stipends and other rewards.
5.) If VTech Is a "Responsible And Caring Employer," Why in The World Would So Many Workers Do Anything They Can to Flee the Factory?:
Due to the harsh and illegal conditions at VTech's plants, workers rarely stay more than a few months. One trainer told a group of workers that in 2011, 27,000 left the three VTech plants! Of the original 31,000 manufacturing workers at the facilities at the beginning of 2011, only 4,000 remained for at least a year. If this is accurate, 87 percent of the workers fled from VTech in a single year!
VTech should respond. If you are a "responsible and caring employer," why do so many desperate employees flee your factories every year? Something does not add up here.
It gets even worse, as VTech management illegally withholds a full month's back wages, including overtime, from the workers. By law, the workers should be paid at the end of the month. But that is not how VTech operates. For example, rather than paying the workers their wages on at the end of June, management makes the workers wait to July 31 to receive their June wages.
This is just another trick up VTech's sleeve. By withholding a full month's wages, management can pressure the workers, forcing them to stay on for at least a few more months in the hope that at some point they will finally be allowed to leave the factory with all their wages.
We are aware that AT&T, Motorola, Philips, Deutsche Telekom, Telstra, Sony and Wal-Mart are concerned about these allegations. To start with, the multinationals should demand that VTech provide accurate documentation regarding how many workers have fled VTech's three manufacturing plants over the last three years.
The multinationals could post advertisements in local Chinese newspapers for a series of months, informing former VTech workers that if they have been shortchanged of their last month's wages, VTech management is now ready to pay them what they are owed. This would be the right thing to do.
6.) Is VTech Management Prepared to Immediately End the Heinous Practice of Issuing "Employee Criminal Records" - to punish and humiliate workers and encourage them to spy on each other? This is no way to treat a human being.
7.) To date, workers are not seeing any improvements at the VTech plants.
Can VTech management concretely describe the improvements they are making in working and living conditions? Has a concrete remediation program been put in place to end the violations?
VTech Web Discussion
"...80% of the people say the quality of management is appalling. It's like a living hell. Makes me so scared."
"...How do I quit? How does the final pay work? If the company fires me, do I get full wages?"
"...They [VTech supervisors/mid-level management] only know how to exploit people, scold people, insult people, but don't know how to increase production... If the leaders are useless, no matter how hard the workers work, it is just a waste of labor. People suffer to work under trashy leaders like these."
"...As an employee, I am scolded all day. Supervisors pick on me all the time. I am a human being too. Those who come to the city come here for jobs, not for insults... How can we be bullied by managers all day? Don't treat employees like machines. They are human beings too."
"...8 hours a day with 3 hours overtime. One day off a week. If it gets really busy, then no days off a week."
"...we quit. How long do we have to wait to get wages that belong to us."
Baidu VTech forum.Web. 10 July 2012.
8.) Right Now, Throughout Guangdong Province, Local Chinese Government Authorities and Police Have Launched a Witch Hunt to Suppress Independent Labor Rights NGOs.
Independent non-governmental labor rights organizations are being spied on. Local authorities are shutting down these NGOs, forcing them to leave, tearing up rental leases, while cutting off their water and electricity. After local government authorities visit the landlords, the NGOs find out they now have no lease and must move immediately.
We have always been aware that the government of China has its own way of operating, which is often outside the margins of international law. But this is an ominous development, which will only further weaken and disenfranchise China's workers.2
Hopefully, VTech management and the multinationals involved at VTech will ask the government to stop the witch hunt and will encourage the authorities to respect the rights of the NGOs.
We hope that the Sustainable Trade Initiative Council (IDH) - and especially its trade union participants, the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (FNV) and the Dutch Federation of Christian Trade Unions (CNV) - will act immediately to support the rights of China's workers.
The following labor organizations have been forced to shut down or relocate: the Shenzhen Spring Breeze Labor Dispute Service Center [春风劳动争议服务部], the Shenzhen Yuan Dian Worker Service Center [圆典工友服务部], the Shenzhen Migrant Worker Center [打工者中心], the Shenzhen Green Grass Worker Service Center [青草工友服务部], and the Times Women Worker Service Center [时代女工服务部].
9.) A Clarification on Wages at VTech:
We never said that VTech workers were routinely and systematically cheated of their regular and overtime wages. In fact, this is one of the few areas where management may be in compliance with China's labor laws. (This does not mean that the workers are being paid a sustainable wage. The $1.09 (US) hourly wage is well below subsistence levels.)
What we did find is that workers forced to meet wildly excessive production goals often make mistakes, which have to be redone. In these cases, it is common for supervisors to confiscate the workers' time cards and punch them out. But the workers still have to continue working for one or two hours without pay until their mandatory production goal is reached.
10.) We received this update from Philips this morning [July 12]: "We sent a team of Philips experts to VTech to investigate the accusations. We agreed with VTech that they would take a number of actions to improve working conditions."
1 (10.5 hours x 6 days = 63 hours; 63 - 40 regular hours = 23 OT hours; 23 x 52 weeks = 1,196 hours/year; 1,196 ÷ 12 months = 99.67 OT hours average per month; 99.67 - 36 legal OT hours = 63.66; 63.66 ÷ 36 = 1.77)
2 Ming Pao. Guangdong labor NGOs under political liquidation; the spring breeze of social reform brings freezing winter. June 9, 2012. Web. July 12, 2012.; Zhi Ru Zhang. Shenzhen Spring Breeze Labor Dispute Service Center. Guangdong labor NGOs face purge; government puts equal emphasis on incorporation and suppression. June 11, 2012. Web. July 12, 2012.
[Translation. Read the original in Chinese.]
A critical moment is facing the social management system reform [she hui guan li ti zhi gai ge, 社会管理体制改革, 社改] on which the central government places high importance. After July 1, civil organizations in Guangdong Province will be able to directly register at the civil affairs department. However, our correspondents have recently found that the local government has strengthened its efforts to suppress NGOs that help defend labor rights. Methods of suppression include surveillance, forcing organizations to relocate, harassment, cutting water and electricity, audits or even threatening workers who attend events, forcing a number of NGOs to shut down. The local authority was strongly criticized for carrying out political liquidation under the cover of a phony reform. The spring breeze of the social reform has brought freezing winter.
"Small government, big society" is a slogan that the Guangdong Province repeatedly uses in this social reform. During the past six months, the social reform which has not gotten to its culminating point has been praised highly by official public opinion. Scholars even indicate that this [social reform] is laying down groundwork for a political system reform and that Guangdong is again acting as a pioneer for reforms in China.
Social reform as a pioneer for political reform, highly praised by officials
"They say one thing and do another!" said Hong Xia Xiao [肖红霞], the head of Shenzhen Times Women Worker Service Center [深圳时代女工服务部]. Two days ago [July 7], staffers of the Industry and Business Department visited the service center and requested that the organization cease operations immediately on the ground of unlicensed operation. Xiao said, "It's not that we don't want to register for a license, but the government wouldn't let us register." The civil affairs department has refused its registration since the service center was founded in March last year  in the Baoan District. The Industry and Business Department claims that she is not allowed to run any business because she gave birth to a second child before.
Xiao and three female workers, on behalf of "Chinese workers," were in the Unites States Times Person of the Year in 2009. Now they help workers defend their rights at the service center during leisure time. There is one employee at the service center. Xiao pays the employee with wages she makes at a factory every month. "Since I heard that civil organizations could register starting from July 1, I had been hoping for that day," said Xiao, daring not to dream for it after being suppressed, "the government only does lip service; they won't let us register."
"It was late for them [Times Women Worker Service Center.] We were forced to relocate in February," said Zhi Ru Zhang [张治儒], the head of Shenzhen Spring Breeze Labor Dispute Service Center [深圳春风劳动争议服务部]. After the Chinese New Year, suppression of NGOs in Shenzhen has been more and more intense. "Yuan Dian Worker Service Center [圆典工友服务部] in March; Migrant Worker Center [打工者中心] in April; Green Grass Worker Service Center [青草工友服务部] in May," said Zhang. In June, the suppression has become even harsher. Besides Times Women Worker Service Center, another NGO whose name hasn't been public yet was forced to relocate yesterday.
NGOs forced to relocate; "Times Women Worker" licensed application denied
Zhang is the husband of Xiao. He was named one of the top ten public welfare figures by the Nan Feng Chuang magazine in Guangzhou. Spring Breeze was founded in 2005. Zhang is not afraid to say that their funding comes from the U.S., which is why the government suppresses this organization. It was reported that the authorities have commissioned some institution to thoroughly check funding sources of all NGOs in Guangdong Province.
Located in Tong Le Village in Long Gang District, the Migrant Worker Center cannot provide service for workers in the evening because the local authorities cut off their electricity. A staffer, Mao Cheng, told us that while they were performing on the streets on May 1, they were forced to leave by unidentified persons and robbed of a list of workers. Since the Center was considered as an foreign illegal organization, he was worried that revenge will be taken against the worker committee. Staffers of Yuan Dian, Green Grass and other NGO defenders cannot rent a place to live because they are blacklisted, unable to stay in Shenzhen.
"The government wants to clean up," Zhang sighed and told us if suppressing NGOs is an innovative move for social reform in Guangdong, "it's hard for us to imagine whether this freezing winter is soon to be over or if more is around the corner."
Suppressing and incorporating at the same time; shell NGOs emerge
The local government suppresses NGOs and at the same time incorporates them. The Worker Service Civil Organization Federation [职工服务类社会组织联合会], which was spearheaded by the Guangdong Province Labor Union, was founded on May 16. Xi Ming Lin, the vice president of the provincial labor union, is the president. Shenzhen Little Bird Migrant Worker Self-Help Hotline [深圳小小鸟打工互助热线] was invited to be one of the 20 founding members. Facing criticism for being incorporated, Feng Yun Tian, the head of the Little Bird, responded that the independence of their role as a labor rights defender will not be affected and that this communication channel with provincial departments may create an impact in the future.
The local authority also focuses on supporting youth and women groups. Shenzhen youth civil organization headquarters was founded in Shenzhen City Communist Youth League of China's building. It was claimed that 57 youth organizations joined and "made it a new hub for civil organizations." However, our correspondent went to the headquarters on a weekend when there are supposed to be the most youth extracurricular activities. The correspondent found that the headquarters, where 57 plaques were hanging at the door was closed and empty. It was reported that the Shenzhen Women's Civil Organization Service Base was founded last month in the women's federation building and 20 women's organizations joined. However, there was not even a plaque.
Recent social reform emphases in Guangdong
- To lower bars of registration of civil organizations;
- To establish government purchasing service system;
- To implement civil organization management regulations;
- To strengthen support for civil organizations;
- To reinforce participation of the Communist Party and the Community Youth League in civil organizations; and
- To promote a reform to remove monopoly and bureaucratization of industry and commerce associations.
*Ming Pao is a daily newspaper published by Ming Pao Group in Hong Kong. The group has branches in the U.S.
Zhi Ru Zhang. Shenzhen Spring Breeze Labor Dispute Service Center. Guangdong labor NGOs face purge; government puts equal emphasis on incorporation and suppression. June 11, 2012.
[Translation. Read the original in Chinese.]
As July 1, 2012 draws near, the Guangdong Provincial Party Committee's and Provincial People's Government's "Decision on strengthening social construction" [关于加强社会建设的决定] will be officially implemented. This undoubtedly brings opportunities and hope in terms of survival and development for a lot of NGOs in Guangdong which are situated in a grey area. A year ago in July 2011, when the Guangdong Provincial Party Committee and Provincial People's Government announced this new deal, it was widely praised and supported. Particularly the new deal mentioned that it will expand communication channels for migrant workers to express their demands and let them play a role in the society. The decision released a signal to labor NGOs which were in a grey area that they may be justified. However, just as this new deal was about to be implemented, a series of incidents happened - incidents that labor NGOs in Guangdong are unwilling to see and unable to figure out:
In February 2012, a landlord asked the Shenzhen Spring Breeze Labor Dispute Service Center [春风劳动争议服务部] to terminate its three-year lease of its office in Baoan Songgang while the Service Center had been in the office for less than three months. The landlord asked the organization to move away immediately. During the negotiation process, the landlord not only cut off water and electricity but also barbarically torn down the sign of the organization, strongly demanding the organization to move away. The organization is yet to determine its new office location.
In March 2012, the Shenzhen Yuan Dian Worker Service Center [圆典工友服务部] underwent several unprecedented government investigations and then soon received a notice from their landlord to terminate their lease before the end of the term, forcing them to relocate. This organization has moved and is yet to determine its new office location.
In April 2012, staffers of the Shenzhen Migrant Worker Center [打工者中心] started to be followed and harassed by unknown personnel. The organization later received a notice from its landlord that the lease was terminated under a unilateral decision and the landlord asked the organization to move. During the time when the organization was negotiating with the landlord, the landlord also cut off its water and electricity. Now this organization cannot carry out its programs and services normally.
|The plaque of Shenzhen Spring Breeze Labor Dispute Service Center's Song Gung office was torn down by its landlord.||Shenzhen Migrant Worker Center was forced to move by its landlord who cut off water and electricity..|
In May 2012, the Shenzhen Green Grass Worker Service Center [青草工友服务部] also underwent several inspections by governmental agencies. Likewise, the organization received a notice to terminate its lease and was asked to move as soon as possible. The landlord also cut off its water and electricity to stop the organization from carrying out its work, forcing the organization to move as soon as possible. Now the organization has no fixed office space.
In June 2012, the Times Women Worker Service Center [时代女工服务部] experienced selective law enforcement. After failed attempts by pertinent departments to pressure the landlord, the Industry and Business Department took over and requested the Times Women Worker Service Center to cease operations or relocate immediately, claiming that the organization is unlicensed.
In the meantime, there is something else that worries us: the Southern Metropolitan reported that the Guangdong Province Worker Service Civil Organization Federation [广东省职工服务类社会组织联合会] was founded in Guangzhou in the morning of May 16, 2012. Leaders of the province made appearances to celebrate the founding. It was reported that the Guangdong Province Worker Service Civil Organization Federation is a local provincial group that is formed by voluntary worker service civil organizations (labor NGOs), research institutions and professionals who are enthusiastic about worker development. The federation has organization membership and individual membership. Any individual or organization that is influential in worker service civil society can voluntarily apply and join as a member. It was reported that the federation will play a role in coordinating worker service civil organizations. Grassroots organizations that joined on the day the Federation was founded include the Dongguan Blue Cloth Charity Service Center [东莞市蓝衣公益服务中心], the Guangdong Pan Yu Migrant Worker Service Department [广东番禺打工族文书处理服务部] and the Shenzhen Little Bird Migrant Worker Self-help Hotline [深圳小小鸟打工互助热线].
As Guangdong is becoming increasingly open, more and more people are confident that Guangdong will move forward and improve. Moreover, recent remarks by the leaders in the Guangdong Province regarding its innovative moves for strengthening social management have brought a hint of spring to the public. However, it has been bitterly disappointing that relevant governmental agencies have carried out a series of incomprehensible moves against labor NGOs that stand behind their principles and do not cooperate enough. These old-fashioned and despicable means of suppression not only disgust people but also are ironic given the upcoming new deal. Of course there is a practical need for the government to incorporate labor NGOs into its service and management through the Worker Service Civil Organization Federation. However, this simple means of suppression and this management method that incorporates NGOs groups by groups will put independent and principled labor NGOs to a stick-or-carrot dilemma. Meanwhile it is worrisome that some originally independent labor NGOs might lose their stance and nature as a civil organization. Thus, if this is one of the innovative methods to strengthen social management in Guangdong, it is hard for us to imagine whether the freezing winter is around the corner or will soon be over.
|Shenzhen Spring Breeze Labor Dispute Service Center Song Gung Office was required to cease operations.
|| the Business and Industry Department demanded the Times Women Worker Service Center to cease operations or relocate.
[Report] AT&T, Motorola and Wal-Mart Complicit in Abuse and Cheating of Workers at Brutal VTech Sweatshop in China