So Sheung

Note from HP: During the last several years, NGOs have raised concern about suppliers in China recruiting labor from vocational schools under the pretense of internships to learn technical skills. Reports suggest these young workers are instead used as unskilled labor for manufacturing. We have implemented pre-departure training for suppliers and schools, which teaches facility and school trainers how to educate interns about issues such as labor rights and occupational health, and how to adapt to city life. In 2011, sessions were held in three areas across China: Chongqing, Guangzhou, and Wuhan. We reached more than 23,400 graduates and interns through the program. HP is also involved in the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition Asia Steering Committee student workers project. The initiative is working to review the status of student workers in the supply chain, to summarize the legal requirements for employing student workers, and to implement guidelines to drive compliance in this area.

We asked So Sheung, Chief Executive, Labour Education and Service Network, to speak about the issue and HP's activities in this area.

1. Why are companies in China hiring students from technical schools more regularly?

Students make up a large and highly flexible labor pool. Official statistics from 2009 state that over 17 million students were registered in more than 10,000 technical schools, and about 7 million graduate annually. All technical school students are required to fulfill a one-year internship or placement, and most of them are sent to electronics manufacturing facilities. The internships are agreed to between schools and employers. Any school can send several hundred students to internships in one facility with only a few weeks advance notice.

Students in internships are not regarded as formal workers under Chinese Labor Law, so some factories use student workers to lower costs.

2.What are the expectations of a young worker taking a job with a company like those that supply HP?

Younger generation workers are more aware of labor rights. Unlike their parents, who typically returned to their home locations, younger workers expect to stay in the cities where they find jobs. Work satisfaction, job prospects, respect, and quality of life are as important to them as their salaries.

3.What are the objectives of pre-departure training?

The objective of pre-departure training is to better prepare workers for living and working in new cities. It aims to:

  • Improve students' awareness of labor rights and laws, occupational health and safety, reproductive health and hygiene, sexual harassment, and HIV/AIDS prevention, among other issues.
  • Improve students' self-esteem and psychological preparation for working in cities.
  • Improve students' self-preservation skills and awareness.

We hope to train teachers and factory personnel to better understand student workers. This way, employers can provide suitable training and work environments for students, help prepare them for the type of work they will be doing, and inform them about students' rights associated with this work. However it can be challenging to find good teachers for the program.

4.Can you explain the importance of HP's role in providing this training?

The use of student workers is highly problematic in China. One of the major risks is schools violating regulations and sending students under 16 to work in factories. HP is a crucial business partner for factories. HP raises student worker issues to factories by spreading awareness through this training.

5.What impact has HP had through its involvement?

HP has successfully introduced or increased awareness of issues relating to student workers to a few major suppliers, and instigated several large-scale training programs.

6.What else could HP do?

We expect the issue of student workers to continue to raise social concerns in China. It would be beneficial for HP to take an even stronger role in alleviating this growing problem.

HP has focused on initial induction trainings for teachers and personnel. HP could develop more in-depth programs with key suppliers and provide more comprehensive training for vocational school teachers. HP could also evaluate the effectiveness of this model to understand how much awareness has been raised among student workers.

7.How do you plan to evolve the program in the future?

We would like to make the program more in-depth, delivering training to vocational school teachers over a longer, more intensive period at certain schools or factories. The program should develop participatory evaluations with the workers receiving the trainings for continuous improvement.

Labour Education and Service Network (LESN)

Established in 2001, LESN is an independent labor NGO aiming to empower workers in mainland China. LESN provides a wide range of services to numerous migrant workers in the Pearl River Delta Region, including labor dispute hotlines and support services, worker awareness raising activities, in-factory training workshops, hospital visits and support to industrial accident victims, and various recreational activities. To increase public support for migrant workers, LESN also publishes books on the poor conditions of some workers in China. With support from various government and university partners, LESN also organizes labor service projects and advocacy conferences on labor-related regulations.

Feedback from training

So Sheung

Chief Executive, Labour Education and Service Network (LESN)