The computer industry has been growing tremendously in the past twenty years. Computers have become an intrinsic part of everyday life and the ability to use the computer is now a requirement for tertiary education. The electronics industry is a high-tech, high-skill professional field. In 2005, the top three computer brands in the world – Dell, HP and IBM – garnered a total of US$200 billions in sales. However, their astronomical profits are based on the exploitation of workers and the environment in the developing countries. Computer brand names maximize their profit margins through retaining the high value-adding parts of their business and outsourcing the lower-end production to developing countries. Factories in the developing countries compete to the bottom prices for these big brand name orders, and in the process, lower the wages of the workers further and further. In order to lower their production cost to meet the rock bottom order prices, they often neglect the harm their production condition cost to the environment as well. The near monopolistic market share of software companies like Microsoft, bundled together with the sales of hardware brands also worsen the degree of monopoly in this industry. Together, such hardware and software brands control unprecedented, and near monopoly power in price negotiations and other aspects of the industry.

Extreme Worker Exploitation

Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd  is a Taiwanese producer of the global hot product: Apple’s iPod.One of its factories is stationed in the FoxconnIndustrial Park in Longhua, Shenzhen. Recently, the Macworld magazine in the UK exposed the conditions of worker exploitation in this alleged sweatshop factory.   Workers usually work 12 hour days. A monthly overtime of 80 hours has been recorded, although workers earn only around RMB$ 1,000 per month. Moreover, workers are also suffering under inhumane management methods.  The exposure caused worldwide consumer outrage and Foxconn might even loose its status as a liscensed Apple producer. This incident shows that the rights of workers producing the consumer goods we buy everyday have obviously become an issue of great concern for consumers worldwide.

The UK non-government organization Cafod went to the Pearl River Delta to investigate the working conditions in the production sites of brand name computer products. They discovered workers working under severe conditions and noted extreme violations of the Chinese labor law. In Dongguan, over 60% of the workers are young women. Some of them earn only around RMB$300 per month. During peak production cycles, they need to work over time up to 15 to 16 hours per day, and may even have to work overnight. However, even if they work such long hours and go without any holidays for the whole month, they end up earning only RMB$430. The legal wage of Dongguan at that time was RMB$450 per month for 8 hours per day. Moreover, the living conditions are appalling. 15 to 20 people are cramped into one room. The factories are also full of hazardous working conditions, and the computers produced under such conditions are therefore, drenched in the worker’s blood. The workers are exposed to toxic chemicals, metal particles in the air and tremendous noise during the production process. Workers along the assembly line need to stand for over 11 hours per day. Workers examining the LCD need to stare at a blinking screen also for at least 11 hours per day. The sight and hearing of the workers are often adversely affected in the process, but the factories do not provide them with proper protection and work safety training. We demand that the computer brand name companies fulfill their corporate social responsibility, and strictly monitor their production companies to make sure that they obey the labor laws of the countries where production take place and protect the rights and safety of the workers.

Environmental Pollution from Toxic Materials

Toxic electronic goods do not only harm the residents and workers of the countries in which they are produced. They also harm the consumers and the environment in consuming and producing countries. 20 to 50 million tons of toxic electronic waste is dumped into the world per year because the producers of electronic goods are not actualizing their responsibility to stop using toxic materials and collect the toxic wastes and retired products from their consumers. Most of these toxic wastes are dumped on Third World countries like China. These waste products contain a lot of heavy metals like lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium and chemicals like brominated frame retardants and PVC, which are all toxic hazards that endanger the local people and environment. We demand that computer brand name companies fulfill their environmental responsibilities and stop using toxic materials and start collecting their toxic wastes and electronic wastes immediately.

Software Monopoly

Big software companies often abuse the power of their market share to perpetuate unfair competition. For example, Microsoft started bundling their application software product Internet Explorer with their Windows operating system. Thus, by using the near monopoly market share of its operating system, it creates unfair competition for other competitor software programs like Netscape Navigator. The United States Department of Justice judges that Microsoft violates fair competition.  The European Union also declares Microsoft in violation of fair competition over another lawsuit brought forward, and demanded that Microsoft provides an operating system without the bundled Windows Media Player software. The European Union heavily fines Microsoft on a daily basis until it complies to provide other competitors with enough information for fair competition.  We belief that no corporation should abuse the power of their market share and all governments have the responsibility to ensure that the environment of fair competition is maintained. An environment of fair competition requires standards of open information exchange, and laws should prevent the unreasonable imposition of sales through bundling.

Both Brand Name Computer Companies and Universities Need to Take Up Their Social Responsibilities
Societies globally are demanding corporations to take up their corporate social responsibilities. Corporations must be responsible for the welfare of their production workers and the environment in which their productions take place. Universities, as the cradle for the pursuit of ideals and the incubation of the future pillars of society have all the more reason to take up social responsibility and act as the conscience of society. As university students, we do not want the computers we use every day to be products of the sweat and blood of exploited workers, the exploited and damaged environment, and the unfair monopolistic power of large corporations. Therefore, we urge all tertiary educational institutions to take up their social responsibilities, add the requirements of “corporate social responsibility” into their purchasing policies for computers and related products, and insist that only those products that fulfill the requirements of “corporate social responsibility” can enter our campuses.

We demand that all tertiary educational institutions:

1. Add the requirements of “corporate social responsibility,” including terms on the protection of workers and worker rights as well as the terms on the protection of the environment into the assessment in their purchasing policies;
2. Require that their computer supply companies file “corporate social responsibility reports” regularly, outlining the worker and environmental conditions along their production chains and make the names and addresses of their supplier factories openly available;
3. Require that their computer supply companies promise that workers in their production sites enjoy the rights and safety provisions guaranteed by their local labor laws;
4. Require that their computer supply companies stop using toxic materials in their production and start collecting the toxic wastes and retired products from their consumers;
5. Penalize and/or not consider companies in violation of fair competition when ordering, and promote and adopt the use of open source formats in information exchange.

Initiative Organizations

Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior
Green Peace
The Student Union of The Chinese University of Hong Kong
LingnanUniversity Students’ Union