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Ex-inmate at Chinese prison: We made airline headsets

Claims Dongguan lags were tasered if targets missed

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Major airlines including British Airways and electronics manufacturers have been accused of sourcing products from a Chinese prison where inmates are tasered if they don’t hit production targets. BA and some of the other companies denied this while others said they hadn't knowingly bought them and are investigating their supply chain.

The Australian Financial Review was tipped off about the story by New Zealander Danny Cancian, a former inmate of Dongguan prison in southern Guangdong province.

He claimed he had made in-flight headphones for Qantas, British Airways and Emirates as well as parts for local firms which supply US technology giant Emerson and home appliance maker Electrolux.

All companies denied any knowledge of selling products made in Dongguan but Qantas, Electrolux and Emerson told AFR they had begun investigations into their supply chain.

Local manufacturer Dongguan City Joystar Electronic told the paper it made 300,000 sets of headphones for Qantas supplier Airphonics last year – a claim the airline is apparently investigating.

A BA statement, meanwhile, claimed all suppliers are strictly vetted prior to their appointment.

“We enforce compliance to a robust labour standards policy throughout the duration of the contract,” it said.

AFR visited the prison in May and June and said it witnessed trucks leaving the complex bearing the logo of Dongguan Dazhong Electronic Co – a supplier for Emerson and Electrolux.

Emerson is apparently investigating the matter while Electrolux is conducting a code-of-conduct audit as a result.

Kiwi Cancain, who said he'd been serving time for manslaughter, told the paper the 70+ hours per week he was forced to work left him with arthritis in his hand and shoulder.

"It’s a very cruel environment. You wake up every morning wondering if you are going to survive the day,” he said, ciaming that failure to meet targets would often mean “you are taken out and tasered”.

If true, the allegations again raise serious questions about how rigorously major multinationals are vetting their electronics suppliers, especially those manufacturers way down the supply chain.

Apple, Samsung, Motorola, Sony and Telstra have all been accused of sourcing products from Chinese manufacturers which work their staff in illegal sweatshop conditions.

In fact, one major player accused of such activity, VTech, is also based in the Guangdong city of Dongguan.

According to AFR, Dongguan is pretty typical of Chinese prisons, which run along a self-funding model. According to the paper it pays its 5,400 inmates 8 yuan (84p, $1.30) a month for their labour at 15 factories within the vast complex. ®

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