2015 October 5

Forced labour in European universities’ servers and ICT equipment

Good Electronics in collaboration with a group of European NGOs released an investigation today showing that forced labour is used in the production of servers bought by European Universities.

Thousands of Chinese students are working 10-12 hours a day, six days a week, for up to five months  under conditions which violate the Chinese labour law and educational standards for internship programmes, according to an investigation released today by Good Electronics and a group of European NGOs. Furthermore the forced internships violate the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) convention against forced labour, the investigations shows.

Xu Min, 19, studies accountancy, and is just one of the students her school has forced into working at the Wistron factory in Zhongshan in Southern China, a factory which produces servers for the three IT giants HP, Dell and Lenovo – the most used server brands by European universities and higher education institutions.

"We are standing at the assembly line the whole day, doing the same task again and again. It has nothing to do with my education. None of us want to be here. We are all depressed, but we have no choice, because the school told us that if we refused, we would not get our diploma. The work is exhausting", Xu min says.

Forced labour
Experts based in China and elsewhere describe the forced internship programmes at electronics factories like Wistron as 'forced labour'. Liu Kaiming, an expert in Chinese law and director of the Institute of Contemporary Observation in Guangdong, says in the investigation: "It is de facto forced labour if students are obliged to be interns at electronic factories in order to get their diplomas".

The report, 'Servants of servers' notes that European Higher education institutions have spent 4.27 billion euros so far in 2015 on hardware, software and IT services to secure quality education for millions of young Europeans.  In 2014 they spent 461.38 million euros on servers alone. HP is the market leader in the higher education IT sector with a market share of 28 percent. Dell controls 13 percent and Lenovo 11 percent.
After being presented with the findings of the investigation HP and Dell have acknowledged several violations of interns' labour rights and have temporarily suspended the use of student interns in their production lines at the Wistron factory in Southern China.

HP says: "The use of student workers has been discontinued on HP production lines at Wistron Zhongshan and we are working with factory management to ensure students are placed in appropriate educational settings".

Click here to read the full report.