[Australia Network News] Australian telecommunications company Telstra urged to probe Chinese sweatshop claims
|Audio: ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Liam Cochrane interviewed Charles Kernaghan, Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (4min 25sec)|
A US-based labour rights group is urging executives from the Australian telecommunications company Telstra to travel to China and confront its phone supplier over working conditions.
The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights has released a report describing what it calls "brutal sweatshop" conditions in VTech factories in China's Guangdong Province.
The group says workers have jumped to their death as recently as last year and that the factories breach many Chinese labour laws.
In 2009, the company VTech signed a deal with Telstra to provide fixed-line phones.
VTech is the world's largest supplier of cordless phones and has licensing agreements with Motorola and AT&T.
It also supplies products for the brands Sony and Philips.
Director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, Charles Kernaghan, told Radio Australia's Connect Asia program the conditions are "gruelling" and "miserable."
"Long hours, 12, 15 hours, 16 hours a day, workers are standing on their feet, they have to do one operation every 2.2 to 2.8 seconds," Mr Kernaghan said.
"They're treated like animals, they're screamed at, yelled at."
Workers are also forced to work without pay if they don't reach their production goals, Mr Kernaghan says.
"It is a 100 percent sweatshop with no legal rights for the workers."
Mr Kernaghan says workers are silently protesting with a kind of "bathroom democracy", which involves sneaking into the bathroom with a marker pen and "writing their guts out" about the horrible conditions in the factory.
Pictures are also smuggled out of the factory and given to human rights groups and local media.
"I think really Telstra and some of its executives should make a trip to VTech, sit down with management and confront them with these allegations," Mr Kernaghan said.
In an email response to Radio Australia, Telstra has written that it is "deeply concerned" by the reports.
"We are looking into the matter," the telecommunications giant wrote.
"Labour misuse is totally unacceptable to us and we will take appropriate action."