The topic of student workers is not new in media coverage. However a series of stories in recent months has caught our special attention:
In June it was reported that about 100 students from an Economic and Trading School of Jiangxi Province were sent to a electronic factory in Dongguan and that the school had borrowed national ID cards for students aged under 15.
In September the South Metropolitan Newspaper discovered that 69 students from the First Vocational School of Jiangmen city (Guangdong) were sent to work in a multi-media factory in Shunde City (Guangdong). The students told the media that they had to work for 13 hours each day and that their work consisted in simple assembly work and moving around production.
In October a paper in Guangdong province disclosed that since 2007, more than 60 vocational school students had been sent to factories in Dongguan in the name of a Work-Study program. As reported, these students received nearly no training throughout the 3 years but spent a lot of time working in factories. The students were also not given the full compensation agreed on in their internship agreements.
There could be several explanations for this phenomenon such as labor shortage, lack of government monitoring of school programs and employment practice and the lack of relevant legal knowledge in factories; the stories may continue if theses root causes are not properly addressed. But what does it mean if my supply chain involves student workers?
First, student workers always raise a red flag for the possible use of child labor (see the. first news item). UL-STR’s social compliance assessments also find that it is more likely to see student workers in factories who are under 16 years old
But it may also pose a risk of human trafficking as per the UN point of view: The aforementioned news involves the 3 key components of the UN definition:
- Act (transport / recruit the students),
- Means (deception of payment), and
- Purpose (exploitation of labor)
Despite the external factors that result in the pervasive use of student workers, there are still some actions suppliers can take so as to mitigate such risk. It is recommended that the legal requirements governing the use of internship students be studied. It is also necessary to review the cooperation policy with vocational schools to verify if an internship program is in place. Where resources permit, seek advice from experts on the current HR practice and raise awareness amongst middle management about the topic of student workers through training. Last but not least, explore options to improve productivity. This could help deal with problems of labor shortage which is might be a fundamental cause.