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HP orders Chinese suppliers to improve labour practices

Hewlett-Packard is the latest major consumer electronics company to take a hard look at its overseas suppliers.

As first reported by the New York Times, HP provided its Chinese suppliers with new rules regarding the use of student and temporary workers.

The guidelines state that workers must be there on a voluntary basis and be permitted to leave without negative repercussions. All local rules regarding working age and hours must be enforced or improved upon. Students should also only be working on projects that complement their area of study, and the number of student workers should be limited. Factories should be "composed primarily of full-time workers," HP said.

"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 workforce management."

Suppliers are being asked to comply with the guidelines immediately, HP said. Progress will be monitored via audits.

HP said its supply chain includes more than 1,000 production suppliers and tens of thousands of nonproduction suppliers in more than 45 countries and territories.

One of HP's suppliers is Foxconn, which also produces products for Apple. Last year, amidst reports of labour abuses at its supplier factories, Apple hired the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to conduct audits at Foxconn and other suppliers. The FLA did uncover unsafe working conditions, as well as excessive overtime, but Foxconn has since agreed to rectify these issues.

The Times noted that it might be easier for factories to implement the HP guidelines than those for Apple since HP has a fairly steady production cycle throughout the year, whereas Apple ramps up production in spurts around major product launches.

Samsung has also conducted audits of its suppliers in recent months. In November, the company said it did not find incidents of child labour at 105 suppliers that manufacture Samsung products in China, but it did find excessive overtime, fines for lateness or absences, and more.