Forced labour used by suppliers to major brands
Several high profile international brands have been accused of using forced labour in their supply chain.
According to an article on the Australian website Financial Review, Qantas, Electrolux, British Ariways and Emirates Airlines have purchased products made in a Chinese jail where inmates are regularly beaten and held in solitary confinement for failing to meet production targets.
Danny Cancian, a New Zealander released from Dongguan Prison last year, told The Australian Financial Review he made disposable headphones for Qantas, British Airways and Emirates Airlines.
Mr Cancian said he also made tiny inductors used in electrical appliances for local companies, including one which supplies Swedish giant Electrolux.
The former inmate told the website that failure to meet production targets in Dongguan would mean “you are taken outside and tasered”.
A second former inmate confirmed he had made inductors as well as headphones for international airlines while serving a five-year sentence.
“Yes, I made them for the Australian airline Qantas, the one with the Kangaroo as its logo,” he said. “We also made them for Emirates, British Airways and lots of others.” he told the Financial review.
Inductors, or transformers as they are sometimes called, are a basic component of many electrical products but are difficult to manufacture mechanically which means they are usually hand-made.
Mr Cancian told the Financial Review that the repetitive nature of the work left him with painful arthritis in his right thumb, index finger and shoulder.
He said some prisoners’ hands were “deformed” after making inductors for long periods.
Mr Cancian, who has become an advocate for prisoners’ rights since his release, said inmates worked more than 70 hours a week and were severely punished for slow production rates.
The use of prison labour is not denied by Chinese authorities, who have made it compulsory for inmates to work while they serve sentences.
In China, prisons are self-funding and often run like private enterprise with profits shared between the warden and prison guards.
According to Cancian, prisoners in Dongguan are paid 8 yuan ($1.40) a month for their labour, which is only slightly more than it costs to buy a bar of soap in the prison shop.
“They claimed it was not slave labour because they paid us,” said Mr Cancian.
He said the jail held 5400 inmates, who worked in 15 different factories within the prison compound.
Attempts by the Financial Review to interview Dongguan prison management were unsuccessful.
A representative from Dongguan City Joystar Electronic Co said his company, which uses prison labour for big orders, made 300,000 sets of disposable headphones for Qantas early last year. Those headphones were made to fill an order for Airphonics, the company Qantas confirmed was its main supplier.
All companies contacted denied any knowledge of the use of prison labour in their supply chain but Qantas, Electrolux and Emerson have initiated investigations following questions from the Financial Review.
According to the International Centre for Prison Studies there were 1.64 million people in Chinese prisons at mid-2012 – not including those in extra-judicial detention.
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Electrolux are featured in a number of Ethical Consumer product guide including, washing machines, fridge freezers and ovens.
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