HP Issues Student Worker Guidelines for Chinese Suppliers

HP follows Apple in working to improve the conditions for student and temporary workers in the factories of Chinese supply chain partners.

Hewlett-Packard, which has one of the largest supply chains in the tech industry, is issuing guidelines to its suppliers in China regarding the use of students and temporary workers in their factories.

The guidelines, announced Feb. 8, come amid reports of the growing use of student labor by factories in China during times of peak demand. HP becomes only the latest tech vendor to try to crack down on alleged labor abuses at some of these factories.

In a statement, HP officials said the guidelines were created in consultation with such groups as China's Center for Child Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility.

"HP has a history of leadership in proactively addressing labor issues and driving supply chain improvements," Tony Prophet, senior vice president of worldwide supply-chain operations at HP said in a statement. "We have worked closely with leading Chinese stakeholders to develop our new student and temporary worker guidelines to ensure the highest standards of ethical work force management."

According to HP officials, the tech giant's supply chain incorporates more than 1,000 production suppliers and tens of thousands of nonproduction suppliers, and it runs through 45 countries and territories. HP already has created guidelines and training programs for supply-chain partners who hire migrant workers, and audits its suppliers to ensure compliance with its social and environmental responsibility (SER) program, officials said.

HP already has performed almost 900 audits covering more than 813,000 employees, they said.

Labor issues in overseas factories—particularly those in China—have been a growing issue in the technology industry. Apple over the past few years has come under fire for alleged abuses at some of the factories of its Foxconn supply partner, including issues around pay, hours, safety and living conditions.

Apple officials have sought to address those issues. Last year, after an investigative report by The New York Times detailed poor working conditions at some Foxconn factories, CEO Tim Cook said in an email to employees that Apple would continue to address any problems. In February 2012, Apple announced that the Fair Labor Association (FLA) would conduct audits of Apple's suppliers, including Foxconn's factories.

In October 2012, soon after Apple launched the iPhone 5, Foxconn officials admitted to hiring underage interns at its factories.

According to a New York Times article, Apple officials in January said they would demand more information from suppliers about the student workers used in the factories by the company's suppliers. According to The Times, factories in China have a history of using high school and vocational school students, as well as temporary workers, to deal with spikes in orders from tech companies. Some local governments order schools to supply labor, and the factories sometimes pay school administrators bonuses, according to the article.

In their guidelines, HP officials said that all workers must be paid fairly. In addition, all workers must be volunteers, free to leave work after giving a reasonable notice and without having to endure negative repercussions, and all companies must follow all local regulations addressing legal working ages, work environments and hours, and contractual terms and term limits for student and temporary workers. HP is limiting the student working hours to below what is the legal limit.

HP also is limiting the number of student and temporary workers to no more than 20 percent of the workforce during times of peak demand—in an effort not only to protect these workers, but also to protect full-time jobs—and is aiming to get that down to 10 percent in the future, HP's Prophet told The Times.

Finally, the work students do must complement their primary areas of study in school, according to HP's guidelines.

HP's suppliers must comply with the guidelines immediately, and the company will conduct SER audits. It will also monitor compliance through its key performance indicator (KPI) program, which collects SER performance information on suppliers. HP will collect the KPI information on suppliers more frequently than in the past.

In addition, HP is also implementing a new audit protocol and collection tool based on provisions from the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition, a global group of electronics companies whose aim is to improve conditions in the international supply chain.