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Dell Responds on Its Labor Practices Standards

Dell Inc. today responded to EBN's request for additional information on how it monitors its partners' compliance to fair labor standards for workers.

“We take the health and safety of our — and our partners' — employees very seriously,” says a Dell spokesman. “We share concerns about overseas labor practices and we make the fair treatment of workers a top priority. Our corporate social responsibility organization is at the forefront of what we stand for at Dell, and we address many of these issues as part of our day-to-day work.”

In a previous blog, I noted that Dell’s 2010 Corporate Responsibility report did not mention site visits or on-site audits as part of its overall compliance monitoring. “We do, in fact, conduct audits of our partners' factories,” says Dell's spokesman.

Last year, Dell conducted a walk-through of several facilities managed by an overseas manufacturing partner. Dell identified strategies for improvement and continues to work with this organization and its other partners toward optimum worker conditions. “We continue to work closely with our partners to address any health and safety issues and ensure the welfare of employees,” the spokesman says.

In addition to ensuring the physical safety of employees, Dell requires workers to be treated with respect and dignity, consistent with Dell's internal code of conduct. “As a leader in the technology industry and as a global business we have a responsibility to pass on those expectations to our business partners.”

Dell's code of conduct includes a human rights and labor policy statement that applies to all Dell employees and other stakeholders. That policy:

    …outlines standards to ensure that all employees are treated with respect and dignity, are working under their own free will, and are being properly compensated for their effort. Dell Inc. is committed to upholding the protection of human rights of all workers where it is possible through our sphere of influence. We are committed to ensuring that we are not complicit in any human rights violations and hold our suppliers and partners to this same high standard. Dell supports and respects the principles proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and believes businesses should ensure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

Elements of the policy include freely chosen employment; no underage workers; minimum wage, regular hours, and benefits; humane treatment; non-discrimination; freedom of association and collective bargaining; and health and safety.

On a more personal note: Dell has a strong reputation as a socially responsible company, and it's unlikely that Dell ignored the red flag raised by reports of suicides at global EMS provider Foxconn. I credit Dell for its response to EBN's queries, and I have no doubt the company independently verifies that workers within its extensive supply chain are treated fairly and that Dell will rectify any problems that it finds.

14 comments on “Dell Responds on Its Labor Practices Standards

  1. Ms. Daisy
    February 25, 2011

    I acknowledge the efforts reported by Dell, but a continous quality improvement of health and safety needs of the workers must be primary. Dell's response is expected and may be the things I have written about in previous blogs are in the works, but I am not confident that all that needs to be done is being done.

    My pessimism is based on the things that are not being reported. I am not hearing of documented trainings for the contractors. Mind you some of the work place health and safety requirements are new to these contractors and need to be taught and re-taught.

    What is the work place incident reports like? Are there grievance resolution processes in place? These are the standards expected here and must be done for any worker anywhere in the world to the best of these companies abilities.

  2. Nemos
    February 26, 2011

    “We do, in fact, conduct audits of our partners' factories,” I dont know about Dell but when I was working in authorized repair center indeed we had about two times per year audit but we knew exactly which days the auditors will come, so we followed the right process those days and the rest of the year we was working in wrong way.

    Dont ask why , i dont know…..

     

  3. saranyatil
    February 26, 2011

    Well Daisy good you raised this point about training documents. It is nice to here a reply from Dell, but i also feel they have not exactly mentioned the exact procedure or flow how the audits take place, also about the frequency of their visits and what measures or policies are taken to correct them. basically corrective measures and how they work on the improvements of the workers.

  4. Clairvoyant
    February 26, 2011

    I agree, Ms. Daisy. It is great to see that Dell responded to EBN's request for information, and it's great to see that Dell looks to be working on the situation. However, how much improvement of the work conditions actually gets accomplished remains to be seen.

  5. Anand
    February 26, 2011

    Dell says : “Dell conducted a walk-through of several facilities managed by an overseas manufacturing partner.”

     I hope these are all surprise walk-throughs and not preplanned, because if all these audits are pre-planned I am sure those partners will do some temporary arrangements to hide the truth.

     

  6. Hardcore
    February 26, 2011

    I have a lot of experience on Ethical auditing, and have yet to see any audit at a suppliers premises that is unplanned or a surprise.

    The closest I would get to 'unplanned' would be two days notice to the factory, who would usually 'cancel' or have people off sick.

    However I had the habit of still turning up for the audits, fortunatly I'm experienced enough that even with 2 weeks notice a factory would be very hard-pushed to 'clean up' its act if they were not performing in line with the requirements, some cannot even manage it with one months notice.

    Sometimes if I am in the area whilst on another audit, I would just pop in for 'tea'.

    That said,even the big 'independent' audit companies do not operate on a surprise visit system, because invariably they have leaks and the information gets back to the suppliers, because the information is worth money.

    A “walk-thrugh”, is rather an unfortunate term, because  walking can be conducted at a range of speeds, and generally may indicate 'eyes-front', some suppliers even take this as a set expression to mean “i'm not here to cause you problems, just filling in the boxes”

    Ultimately it matters not one jot, the level of paperwork or training a audit company can give, but all comes down to the  individual inspector, who MUST be multi-discaplined (which is why Wintek has the problem with the cleaning fluid, the previous audit teams were NOT multi-discaplined which is possibly why it happened)

     

    HC

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  7. Ashu001
    February 27, 2011

    Hardcore,

    First things first-Brilliant,Brilliant post!!!

    This is what makes EBN such a great website!!!

    To hear the first person viewpoint of so many heavily experienced people in various fields is what makes EBN such a great publication for the Supply Chain industry .

    I learnt a lot from this post of yours…

    By the way ,what exactly do you mean by,“multi-discaplined”, is it just a spelling mistake for multi-disciplined???

    Regards

    Ashish.

  8. Taimoor Zubar
    February 27, 2011

    I think the surprise visits are highly important in audits. As you said, it is very easy to fix things up on a planned visit and make everything look proper. Besides this, I have felt that the visits generally last for a day or two. I don't think this time is adequate enough to properly assess things. The visits do not have to last for whole days, they can simply be for a couple of hours but should be scattered over several days. This is one way the management will be under pressure to follow and maintain the standards at all times.

  9. SP
    February 27, 2011

    Well its really good on behalf of Dell to respond immediately to issues of labor practice standards. But I feel its very difficult for companies in US to bringup the standards of their outsourced partner to their level unless the outsourced partner have the executive directors that have lived in US and then got settled in those parts of world. And practically there is vast difference in the way human rights are dealt with in US and in other parts of world. Anyway I agree it would be good for everyone if labor laws and human rights are followed in outsourced partner's day to day functioning as they are in parent companies.

  10. Hardcore
    February 27, 2011

     

    Hi Ashish,

    Yes 'multi-disciplined', for some reason I have an issue with letters being missed and changed, or sometimes complete posts going missing, generally I spelling check a post as well.

    One issue we see time and time again, is that 'some' 3rd party inspection agencies, train the staff to tick boxes in a mechanical way, very few have a background in anything else other than paperwork many are not even aware of how the factory processes come together and work as a whole.

    Lets take for example an audit in an Electronics factory.(unfortunately I cannot embed pictures)

    Many ethical auditors, on walking into the production area would not even notice the 'sweet smell' in the air, they would then carry on with the audit.(lets not forget that there were multiple prior audits at Wintek that failed to pick up the problems.)

    Whilst our inspectors would not be trained in chemistry, they would be trained to know that air should not have a sweet smell.

    As a result they would NOT enter the area, instead they would short circuit the audit to the 'Dangerous goods area', identify the materials in the stores, THEN they would go to the purchasing department, at this point they would cross-reference the markings on the containers with the purchase orders.

    They would do this because some factories deliberately get their supplier to mis-label containers so that audit teams/local government inspectors cannot easily identify the chemicals being used on the shop floor, generally the purchasing dept. shows the material as it should be marked, with a cross reference used in the factory.

    To all intents and purposes the audit would go-off track, but still cover all areas needed without subjecting the audit staff to potentially hazardous materials.(many independent audit companies will not allow this)

    The 'production area' would then be marked as a fail, for EVERYTHING, purely because we would be prevented from auditing it safely.

    So by multi-disciplined I mean that we would expect the inspectors to centralize their knowledge in a given area, but at the same time have reduced back ground in Chemistry, Electronics, Metal working, Cleaning, First-aid and obviously Employment law, plus also understand that an audit can go off the rails to chase down a problematic discovery. Many audit teams are far too ridged in their inspection procedures as a result it gives the supplier a framework to 'work-round' so that the supplier looks like they are highly compliant but in reality it is just smoke and mirrors.

    HC.

     

     

     

     

     

     

  11. Ms. Daisy
    February 28, 2011

    Yeap! This is the reason why good auditors in service industries have in their contract un-sheduled or unannounced visits. Workers and their managers often return to old ways of doing things if they know they are not being watched. Good supervisors however make the attempt of sticking with the design for improvement even when the workers are kicking and screaming. The latter often come back to accept the changes as good for all, but it requires the  nerves of steel by managers to stay on track. Hopefully we will have more managers that want to do the right thing and are willing to stay in it for the long haul.

  12. Backorder
    February 28, 2011

    Thanks for the insights, Hardcore. Good information. You mention ethical auditing and the article talks about facets of this company's policy dealing with 'humane treatment' and ” working with dignity and respect”, terms which I find would be very difficult to practically evaluate through an audit visit. What processes are in place for evaluating big companies on this scale? Is there a mandatory system and reporting in place for such violations, if at all they occur?

  13. Hardcore
    February 28, 2011

    Hi Backorder,

    When you say “mandatory system and reporting in place”, do you mean from factory worker to company or from audit team to audit instigating company?

    Both terms are far to “wooly” to be used effectively, personally I would break them down into:

    No bonded labour.

    No withholding of personal documents.

    No Physical or verbal abuse.

    No withholding reasonable toilet breaks.

    E.T.C

    The reason I would expect such a breakdown is so that any necessary corrective action could be clearly targeted. But yes you are correct they can be difficult to interpret  and grade correctly.

    Unfortunately some companies insist on grouping them together as a general term, sometimes to hide minor infractions, other times because they do not have a deep understanding of the cultures, production procedures or because it looks good as a buzz word. (I see that a lot)

    Most factories have some sort of policy for reporting such matters, either formally or informally, however the real issue is getting workers to come forward.

    We can usually trace most infractions of this sort to lack of training/education, but it can come from either direction (not just the factory to the workers)

    Certainly in China it is a bigger issue with the ethnical mix of peoples, most outsiders consider China as one big country full of 'Chinese' happily squirreling away on production lines to make goods for western countries. That is a stereotype.

    Unfortunately this is not even close to the truth and a good factory manager has to really have his wits about him if, ethnic problems are not to kick off in a production facility.

    Some ethnic groups would not 'work well' if supervisor or manager was from a different ethnic mix and there would be continual friction and misunderstanding,even some villages from the same area will not work well together!!

    Generally you would try to keep ethnic groups together and with a cross language translator.

    (yes I know your not supposed to consider this when hiring staff, but for safety it is a necessary requirement,  in some cases you are dealing with groups of people from the countryside where village feuding is still common practice. So sometimes the political correctness has to be placed to one side, generally I would not penalize a factory for such behavior if it was in the interests of safety and security)

    Again this comes down to an in-depth knowledge of systems, peoples backgrounds and cross-discapline audit staff.

     HC.

     

  14. Nemos
    March 1, 2011

    🙂 You just said the magic words” un-scheduled or unannounced visits ” . Managers prefer don't follow the audit rules because with this way they earn time and money. For the staff is the same and sometimes it is better for them to follow the audit rules.

    For example if you follow the service rules that the service company say you can maximum repair 15-16 mobiles phones per day. It is pity that some managers as you said they prefer to do the maximum per day without give the necessary attention in the quality of the service and of course they dont follow the audit rules.

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