Workshop: Case Study - Cafod takes on the PC manufacturers

Francois Le Goff

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Background: Since it launched its Trade Justice campaign in 2001, Cafod has been investigating the working conditions of factory workers in developing countries in order to check whether labour standards set by the UN International Labour Organisation were being implemented.

Working with in partnership with workers' rights organisations Cereal in Mexico and the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, the charity found evidence that electronics workers are frequently exploited and exposed to humiliating recruitment tests and harassment.

In 2003, it launched a campaign dubbed 'Clean up your computer!' to draw people's attention to the reality that lies behind the gloss of the high-tech industry, and to ask companies such as IBM and Dell to come 'clean' on workers' rights.

Objectives: The aim of the campaign was to encourage these companies to adopt a code of conduct based on international labour codes developed by the UN.

How it worked: In September 2003, Cafod met UK executives from IBM and Dell to inform them of its research into working conditions in factories in the Southern Hemisphere and to issue its demands.

In early 2004, the charity distributed postcards about the campaign to 8,000 supporters, 3,000 schools and 1,000 youth organisations, asking them to sign and send the cards to IBM and Dell. 100,000 postcards were produced and it was hoped that at least 10 per cent of them would be sent on.

An email containing an electronic postcard and an animation was also sent out. Called A Tale of Two Cities, the animation featured the working lives of two people, one from each hemisphere.

The first of these sees a young executive enjoying a laid-back routine, having fun at work playing video games with his boss. The second sees a young woman working long hours in a polluted factory environment, constantly bullied by the foreman.

Cafod produced a series of additional campaign materials including a policy report Rough Guide to Labour Standards, mousemats and 'Exploitation' - a simulation game devised for school pupils.

Finally, it launched a campaign website, which encouraged those people with a pension to contact their fund manager to find out whether they were lobbying computer companies on labour standards. Cafod also called on people owning shares in IBM or Dell to write to the chief executive and to bring a resolution on labour standards to its AGM.

Results: In February, Dell issued a code of conduct on workers' rights.

Although this might not have been a direct result of its campaign, the charity believes that its work nonetheless helped to speed up its release.

Katherine Astill, policy analyst at Cafod, worked with the company to produce the code and still advises it on labour issues.

In a letter to Cafod, IBM said it has long had a strong policy against discrimination in the workplace and that it is taking steps to reinforce this with its suppliers, including updating its supplier agreement. The charity welcomed the move but contends it falls a long way short of guaranteeing good conditions for IBM's workers.

"IBM, unlike Dell, does not show any openness towards adopting a code of conduct," said Astill. "A code is a vital first step in improving conditions for workers. Cafod is disappointed by its response."

The campaign continues ...

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