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Do audits of Chinese manufacturers protect workers?

Berkeley — Auditing of worker conditions at manufacturing firms in China provides little help for Chinese laborers, according to a new paper by economists Guojun He and Jeffrey Perloff at the University of California, Berkeley.

Labor conditions at manufacturing firms in China have recently come under increased scrutiny – and audits.

The study, published in the spring issue of the journal Industrial and Labor Relations Review, found that more than half of Chinese employees in audited firms worked more than the legal limit of 44 hours per week. Between one-third and one-half of those working overtime did not receive legally required overtime wages for the extra hours.

“Unfortunately, auditing of working conditions by Western or Chinese firms has little effect on wages or overtime hours,” said Perloff, a UC Berkeley professor of agricultural and resource economics.

Apple, Nike and many other Western companies have been criticized for ignoring the plight of their subcontractors’ workers in China and elsewhere. Apple was put under the spotlight recently after reports surfaced of worker abuse at Foxconn Technology Group, a major Chinese manufacturer of iPhones, iPads and other consumer electronics.

“Auditing did help one group — rural migrant workers — get medical and unemployment insurance,” added He, a UC Berkeley graduate student in agricultural and resource economics. In China, rural migrants do not typically get the employee benefits that urban residents receive.