The Global Sweatshop: Scots firm pays guest staff 96p an hour

The campaign urges retailers to ensure that sub-contractors' workers do not earn low wages in poor conditions. We ask them to draw up codes of conduct and to have them monitored independently. We also call for: Retailers to report yearly on social auditing; Country-of-origin labels to be compulsory; An "ethical trade kitemark" for pay and conditions.
Click to follow
The Independent Online
NO ONE could accuse Chicony Electronics of aiming too low in its ambitions for its workers; "Our ultimate goal lies not only in the pursuit of perfection and excellence, but also the creation of well-being of all of the human race," the company's mission statement says. But the firm's concern for the Thai workers at its factory in Scotland, who make keyboards for the computer giant IBM, allegedly does not extend to paying them the pounds 3.60-an-hour minimum wage.

The quality control workers, who are here on temporary work visas, are paid 96p an hour (the rate they receive in Thailand), it was claimed yesterday. The firm is under investigation by Inland Revenue inspectors for possible breaches of the government minimum, introduced in April. It is also facing questions about the workers' immigration status and allegations that they work far longer hours than their Scottish colleagues.

Senior staff at the factory in Greenock, near Glasgow, yesterday denied exploiting the Thai employees, five of whom are working there at the moment. The company is also facing allegations that girls are kept under virtual house arrest at a flat in nearby Gourock and are discouraged from mixing with other staff.

Streaming out of the factory at lunchtime, the Scottish workers laughed and joked while their Thai colleagues were nowhere to be seen. Staff remained tight-lipped, and some said they were afraid that adverse publicity could cost them their jobs. The managing director, Park Lee, was unavailable. However, the company's production manager, Chris Pilling, was keen to prove that the Thai employees were well treated. He said that he did not have the details of their salaries, as they are employed by Chicony (Thailand), but maintained there was no question of them working without proper permits. He took The Independent on a tour of the factory to prove how "happy and contented" the Thai staff were.

"These allegations have simply been stirred up by disgruntled ex-members of staff," Mr Pilling said. "The girls are employed by Chicony (Thailand) and are simply here to carry out inspectorate roles as we do not have their kind of expertise in Scotland.

"While they are here they receive their normal salary into their banks at home in Thailand [said to be 96p an hour] and the company pays for all their travel and living expenses, as well as giving then $25 US (pounds 16) a day spending money. Working here is in fact very profitable for them. Employees in Thailand are queuing up to come to Scotland," he added.

After pointing to gifts made by the Thai girls for their Scottish colleagues as evidence of workplace harmony, Mr Pilling said: "To say they are under house arrest is ridiculous; the managing director did advise them not to go out on their own and to stay away from men, but this was because they were receiving a bit of hassle from some temporary employees.

"Their culture is very different to ours, they are far more reserved. Unfortunately the girls' flat was broken into a while ago and that is why the company was given their passports for safe keeping. To say they are being treated like prisoners is ludicrous."

Mr Pilling declined to comment on whether they had been contacted by the government inspectors after recent allegations. He also refused to let The Independent talk to the girls, claiming they had been distressed by pictures of them that appeared in the press.

However, he introduced an engineer, Mark Gallagher, 31, who had prepared a statement on behalf of employees at Chicony. It read: "We are appalled at the lies that have been told to totally discredit our company, ourselves and our Thailand colleagues. We would like to say how happy our Thailand colleagues have been since they started. They show us great affection and shower us with gifts of origami."