The reality of keeping technology a secret for migrant workers in Taiwan

While recently interviewing migrant workers from the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam who work in Taiwan about their living conditions at various factories within the technology segment, many revealed their employers hold strict restrictions that are against law in order to avoid potential technology leakage into the market.

Responding both in English and Chinese Mandarin, the workers revealed employers, most of which are component makers in supply chains such as Apple and Samsung Electronics, do not allow the workers to leave company property and dormitories more than one day a month as they are usually forced to work, both with and without extra pay, or, as they are feared of passing technology secrets onto other companies.

The workers said such efforts are made particularly at times when companies are about to release new products, but that in general the situation is as such. Some of the workers are also prevented from using computers and handsets at times as there is a fear they would expose secrets for money, said the workers, adding that they couldn’t understand why they would be considered more of a threat than a white-collar employee working for the company.

There is probably a lot of truth that technology leaks do start from the assembly lines in Taiwan and China, but to what length should the workers be forced to work and monitored? Such labor conditions would be difficult to get away with in a lot of countries but according to the workers, they are the norm in Taiwan, and are apparently beneficial to vendors.

For starters, foreign workers at the assembly lines within the components makers’ factories are paid only half of what a local Taiwan worker would require. This helps drive down production costs and allows consumers to enjoy lower-priced goods. Additionally, due to the workers’ low wages they cannot afford outside housing, which employers can use to their advantage by keeping the workers in dormitories where they are pretty much isolated from society aside from 1-2 Sundays a month, the workers believe.

When asked if a worker would be willing to sacrifice their job at the risk of being caught for exposing technology secrets, all of them said they prefer stability and safety in their lives, and would respect their employer even more if they were treated better.

Whatever the reality of the situation may be, foreign workers on assembly lines spoke over and over again about their dissatisfaction of working under such environments, and feel that vendors need to be more aware of the human price being paid to produce consumer goods.

The workers are also continuing to voice their opinion that labor laws in Taiwan be exercised and monitored more frequently and honestly, and expect that they be granted one day rest a week, as is stipulated in their contracts.

One worker ended the conversation by saying “If people really knew what was going on the assembly lines they would probably think twice whether to buy that brand’s product. It comes at the harsh expense of others, but that’s the way it goes.”

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