Investigation reveals illegal workers making Kindles in China

Investigation reveals illegal workers making Kindles in China

An investigation has reported that thousands of agency workers who make Amazon’s Echo smart speakers and Kindles in China have been hired and paid illegally.

The e-retailer said independent auditors visited the Foxconn factory earlier this year and uncovered “two issues of concern”, which it did not identify, and added that it has requested a "corrective action plan".

According to the Observer the factory had hired an illegally high number of agency workers and was not paying them the appropriate pay for overtime . These employees, known as dispatch workers in China, do not get sick pay or holiday pay and can be laid off without wages during low levels of production. China’s labour laws mean that these workers should only comprise 10% of its workforce; however the investigation, run by the newspaper and New York-based NGO China Labor Watch, showed that more than 40% in the factory were dispatch workers.

Further to this, these employees at the Hengyang were being paid at the normal hourly rate instead of the time-and-a-half required by Chinese law and by the internet retailer’s own supplier code of conduct.

The detailed investigation reported on the exhaustion of workers, including those who were forced to brush 1,400 Echo Dot speakers to remove dust in a day. “The woman across from me said that she had been brushing for so long that her hand was growing numb, her neck was sore, her back was sore, her eyes couldn’t see clearly, and her vision was getting worse …” a worker told the Observer.

The report also showed that the Hengyang workers received far less than workers for Foxconn in other Chinese cities. Other employees who work at the electronics manufacturing company making Apple products in Shenzhen receive 2,400 yuan (£280) per month compared to the Hengyang workers getting only 1,750 yuan (£204).

Li Qiang, executive director of China Labor Watch, wrote to Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, last month, outlining the findings and demanding action. Kara Hartnett Hurst, Amazon’s head of worldwide sustainability, wrote back: “Amazon recognises our responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of factory workers manufacturing products for Amazon.”

An Amazon spokesperson told The Bookseller that following its own audit in March, it requested a “corrective action plan” and is “ensuring that these issues are resolved”.

“Amazon takes reported violations of our Supplier Code of Conduct extremely seriously,” the spokesperson said. “Amazon regularly assesses suppliers, using independent auditors as appropriate, to monitor continued compliance and improvement. In the case of the Foxconn Hengyang factory, Amazon completed its most recent audit in March 2018 and identified two issues of concern. 

"We immediately requested a corrective action plan from Foxconn Hengyang detailing their plan to remediate the issues identified, and we are conducting regular assessments to monitor for implementation and compliance with our Supplier Code of Conduct. We are committed to ensuring that these issues are resolved.”

The spokesperson also said that contrary to the Observer's report, the factory set up independent of Amazon, rather than being created jointly with Foxconn and the e-retailer.