Impacts of COVID-19 on supply chain workers in the electronics sector

Electronics factory in Shenzhen - photo credit: Steve Jurvetson

Electronics factory in Shenzhen - photo credit: Steve Jurvetson

COVID-19 poses risks to workers in global supply chains, including those in the electronics sector, and in particular workers in vulnerable conditions such as migrant workers. Such risks and impacts have been documented in the mining sector in Latin America as well as in electronics manufacturing in Asia (incl. China (incl Hong Kong), India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam), Europe (e.g., Czech Republic and Italy), and Latin America (e.g., Brazil and Mexico).

Workers in electronics supply chains are faced with conditions including: 

  • loss of working hours and wages, job loss and lack of severance pay, and subsequent inability to cover basic needs,
  • restriction of movement (inability to return to home towns or to leave internships),
  • suspension of collective bargaining agreements and cancellation of wage increases, 
  • health and safety risks (e.g., lack of protective equipment, lack of social distancing measures, request to return to or stay at work despite health and safety risks and under threat of non-payment of wages).

Sources include: Electronics Watch, Fair ICT Flanders, IndustriALL, Responsible Business Alliance, Sedane Labour Resource Center, TEAM (Thai union)

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21 May 2020

Uganda: Workers, including in hospitality & manufacturing sectors, losing jobs due to Covid-19 pandemic

Author: Raymond Mujuni, Daily Monitor (Uganda)

"Workers feel the pinch of Covid-19"

...Whether it is the floating letters on social media or the buried emails on company servers, many salaried employees are bearing the brunt of pay cuts, redundancy or termination all together...For Uganda, the Minister of Finance estimated it would drive some 780,000 people into poverty. Some governments have stared this bleak figure in the eye with all round economic stimulus packages which have included cuts to Pay As You Earn and corporation taxes like the Kenyan government. While others are simply putting money in people’s pockets and sacrificing a tenth of the national input like South Africa.

As for Uganda, speech after speech, workers have worn out seat-edges and rationed free government flour and beans in earnest.“I do not feel the government has even begun to do anything for the economy to be honest,” Damalie, a laid-off marketer decried. Damalie had been laid off by a technology firm with global operations. She was typing away a communications proposal for the firm when midway, an email, interrupted her informing Damalie that her source of livelihood was being taken away...

As heads of schools donated to the National Task Force on Covid-19, several teachers, especially in private schools, cried out for relief food saying they had not been paid since the president closed all education institutions in March to combat the pandemic. This sad irony is playing out in other sectors as well.The Uganda Hotel Owners’ Association revealed that their members have been forced to send at least 400,000 employees on unpaid leave due to the Covid-19 lockdown that has plunged tourism, the country’s biggest foreign exchange earner and other sectors of the economy, into disarray. 

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20 May 2020

Global electronics factory survey on level of production, workforce, and payment of wages

Author: Responsible Business Alliance

RBA Brief - Survey #3: COVID-19 Impact at a Glance, 20 May 2020

The outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused widespread global business and human rights-related concerns throughout the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA) and stakeholder communities… The focus of this RBA Brief is to provide updated information gathered from factory-level surveys conducted May 11, 2020 to May 18, 2020 globally…

The trend analysis shows a recovery period is starting in capability and workforce, particularly in China.

Key data points:

In China, respondents said…

- 57% of factories are back at 100% production capacity, a significant increase from 33% reported in Survey #2 ...

- 95% of factories have greater than 75% of their workforce returned to work, up from 71% in Survey #2 ...

Globally, respondents said…

- 51% of factories are not functioning at full capacity, showing a recovery from Survey #2.

- 58% are receiving funding assistance from the local government, versus 55% in Survey #2

- 35% of factories are paying workers who have not returned to work, versus 47% in Survey #2 ...

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19 May 2020

Lear Corporation response

Author: Lear Corporation

...First, we would like to clarify that Lear operations in Ciudad Juarez did close in accordance with government orders. 

Prior to the facilities’ closure, Lear followed all known best practices at that time to protect our employees and local communities including:

  • More frequently cleaning often-touched surfaces
  • Providing employees with self-health training and education following guidelines set by the World Health Organization
  • All employees experiencing symptoms of any kind were encouraged to stay home
  • We sent employees with underlying health conditions home with full pay

Employees who were sent home upon closure are being paid in accordance with agreements with local labor unions and continue receiving full benefits. It is worth noting that we have been working closely will all local unions and continue to work with them as we prepare safety measures for re-opening. 

At Lear, our first priority is the health and safety of our employees around the world, including our 56,000 manufacturing employees throughout Mexico and their families during this global health crisis...

Download the full document here

9 April 2020

Malaysia: Migrant workers in electronics sector face restriction of movement and are incentivised to return to work despite health risks

Author: Electronics Watch

COVID-19 Updates from Monitoring Partners, 9 April 2020

Dhurba Thapa, a migrant worker rights monitor and ex-electronics worker explains the current situation of migrant workers in Malaysia within different sectors including electronics, rubber gloves, and security with the main source of information coming from existing workers in Malaysia:

Some companies are still running where they have permission from the government to operate a certain percentage of production for essential medical devices or tools. Electronics companies have implemented different standards for local and migrant workers. Whereas local workers are permitted to leave factories and to use public transport, bringing a high risk of infection, migrant workers' movements outside of accommodation are restricted because of safety concerns. Migrant workers are prevented from going to bigger supermarkets due to the lockdown and instead have to use smaller, more expensive shops. Migrant workers who want to send money to their families are prevented from doing so due to the lockdown.

Some companies are paying workers an additional allowance of around 50 Malaysian ringgit (£9.25) to incentivise them to work despite the risks. Even where companies provide hand sanitiser and masks, workers fear infection because of crowded workplaces, entries and exits, and because of workers' outside movements. Companies are advised that only very important and highly essential production should run; that they should provide local workers with food and temporary accommodation near the factory; and that they should arrange temporary rules to avoid using the same entrance for all workers and to implement and follow-up on safety rules including cleaning and social distancing.

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27 March 2020

[Unofficial summary] Mexico: Concerns for the health & safety of factory workers allegedly forced to continue working

Author: Sin Embargo

Unofficial summary translation by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre of the original Spanish article:

"Over 2,000 workers and their families from Mayan communities are at risk because the Germany factory LEONI has forced them to continue operating, despite having registered at least 4 cases of Coronavirus in the plant in Yucatán… 

An example of savage capitalism is being lived through by Mayan communities in this pandemic.  The Germany factory LEONI Wiring Systems, that makes components for the car industry, is not stopping operations despite having four cases confirmed of workers with COVID-19.  The rest of the workers, some with diabetes and hypertension, fear contracting the disease in a work space without social distance and in contact with the same produced object, as they live in areas without adequate health or drainage services. 

The only measure announced on Thursday was to suspend the informative meetings for contractors.  In contrast, other big German car producers such as Volkswagen and BMW decided to suspend their plants in Mexico and other countries…"

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24 February 2020

China: Electronics workers expected to face withholding of wages and restrictions on freedom of employment

Author: Economic Rights Institute and Electronics Watch

Protecting Chinese Workers' Rights During the 2020 Epidemic: Guidance for Public Buyers, 24 Feb 2020

[The report outlines the risks their authors] expect this [COVID-19] epidemic poses for workers’ rights: ...

  • [Covering] Living expenses without employment ... millions of Chinese citizens will find it difficult to promptly return to paid employment.
  • Discrimination... We should expect some employers to refuse to hire people from Hubei, even former Hubei residents who did not visit the province during the epidemic, afraid of the risks of infection from the virus.
  • Withheld income and restrictions on freedom of employment...
    • [C]onsequences from… [withholding wages include workers struggling to cover their living expenses and might lead to some workers resigning] and never receiv[ing] the income owed them for work they completed…
    • The withheld income will undermine employees’ freedom of employment, pressuring them to agree to employment conditions they might otherwise resist, worried they will otherwise lose income owed to them…
    • One electronics supplier scheduled students to intern with them for one month. But government restrictions prevented these students from returning home ... so the students found themselves forced to extend their internship two additional months.
  • Lost sick benefts

[The report further notes that] social auditing… will struggle to… [address] prejudiced employment policies [and the violdations faced by] employees who are forced to pay illicit fines when they resign, employees fired before they recover from illness, and employees fired before emergency policies preventing them from returning to work come to an end…

[The report concludes with recommendations for buyers.]

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