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The use of temporary workers, notably workers who are underage or students, has risen in China. But HP on Friday issued new and tighter guidelines to its suppliers conducting operations in China that according to the company are the first for the information technology sector.

China’s role as the world’s factory workshop is now under siege as its once unlimited supply of cheap labor has fun dry. Several factors are at play: the one-child policy the Chinese government implemented in 1979; Chinese workers’ demands to be treated like human beings; consumers’ outcry to abuses in factories; and the emergence of other economies that can offer a rate cheaper than China’s. As a result, many Chinese families have turned to vocational schools and temporary job agencies as stopgaps to address the declining number of workers. The results have been a variety of abuses, from local officials forcing students to work in factories while still paying vocational school tuition, including those whose studies have nothing to do electronics manufacturing.

And now that major media outlets such as the New York Times have covered this story, more technology companies will have to fall in line and develop policies instead of issuing excuses.

According to a press release HP released on Friday, the company’s new guidelines for student and temporary workers go far beyond local regulatory requirements in China and what HP has mandated in the past. Student working hours must be set below local legal limits, and only a certain amount of student workers are allowed to ensure that manufacturing facilities within HP’s supply chain are majority full-time workers. Temporary workers and “interns” will be free to leave their positions as they please and not be forced to remain on the job under any circumstances. Furthermore, student workers can only engage in manufacturing processes related to the degree or certification for which they are studying.

HP has required suppliers to follow these new rules immediately. The company will measure compliance through HP’s social and environmental responsibility (SER) audits and gauge progress using a set of key performance indicators (KPIs). Finally, HP is developing an audit protocol and collection tool based on the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition’s “zero-tolerance” policy for the most egregious cases of labor violations. Considering Foxconn workers in recent months have been found to be as young as 14, HP’s stricter supply chain policy could not arrive soon enough.

This announcement comes as HP has smoothed out problems with its supply chain in recent years. Since 2005, the company has launched more ethical audits, employed workers at such audited factories and has seen an overall decrease in labor violations. At a time when consumers are now more concerned about the ethics behind their laptops, tablets and phones, it is time for more technology companies to issue similar policies. And it will be up to us to follow up with HP and see how these new directives make a difference in the long run.

Published earlier today on Triple Pundit. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).Leon will explore children’s health issues in India February 16-27 with the International Reporting Project.

[Image credit: HP]

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.