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Taiwan joins worldwide campaign against IT sweatshops

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Launched by European nongovernmental organizations, the makeITfair campaign urged consumers in Europe and around the world to participate in the “International makeITfair Action Day” on May 7 through street demonstrations and social media.

In Taiwan, at least 100 people gathered Friday night in a late-night ceremony held at a major shopping area for electronic goods in downtown Taipei.

They chanted slogans and hoisted signs condemning sweatshop factories and excessively long working hours in the high-tech sector.

Huang Tzu-hua, a member of the High-tech Cold-Blooded Youngs, one of the event’s four main organizers, said Apple Inc. is making a fortune from selling its iPad and iPhone, but the workers at Apple’s assembly lines in China are not getting their fair share.

Instead, they work long hours at minimal pay, and some sacrifice their health or even their lives in inhumane working conditions.

A number of high-profile cases over the past year have highlighted the plight of workers in some factories in China making parts or finish goods for Apple.

In one such case, Taiwan-based Wintek Corp. was forced to pay compensation in February to 137 workers who were poisoned during the production of touch screen panels for Apple products.

At the Shenzhen complex of Foxconn Technology Group (also known as the Hon Hai Group in Taiwan), another big Apple supplier, 19 workers attempted suicide from early 2010 to early 2011, with 16 successful.

Many believe the workers were driven to take their lives by harsh working conditions that treated humans as machines.

Apple is expected to draw scrutiny around the world on makeITfair Action Day.

Under the slogan “Time to bite into a fair Apple,” activist groups such as Sacom in Hong Kong, Somo in the Netherlands and Germanwatch in Germany have asked people to crowd into Apple stores and ask about working conditions in Apple’s factories and supply chain.

Aside from targeting Apple, the protesters in Taiwan also picked on HTC Corp., the country’s largest mobile phone maker.

They called HTC a “sweatshop factory” and accused it of abusing its operators and engineers by making them work more than 12 hours on a daily basis, the groups said.

Tuner Kuo, a former HTC engineer who showed up at the event, told Central News Agency that he attended because he was thankful for the concern and support shown by the civic groups.

“But I don’t think HTC is a sweatshop company,” he said. “Compared with other major giants, the pay is relatively good, both for operators and engineers.”

He said it would not be fair to single out HTC, because the real problems were industry-wide and involved the changes and challenges facing Taiwan’s IT industry.

One of the changes is that engineers are given shorter time periods to develop new mobile phones. Five years ago, companies had 15 months to roll out new designs, but now they have only have nine months, meaning engineers have to work extra hours to meet demand.

“It’s not just engineers who are working past midnight every day. Even managers and general managers stay up late,” he said.

“Most of the engineers are very committed to their job, and sometimes they forget to take good care of themselves,” he said, adding that the government should step in and help solve the excessive overwork problem.

The problem has received considerable attention in Taiwan because of the suspected deaths from exhaustion of many local workers, including a Kuo colleague, 30-year-old Hsieh Hung-ming, in February.

Source: The Central News Agency of Taiwan


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