MEDIA RELEASE: Tech Giants Graded in Australia's First Electronics Industry Trends Report

By on 21 May 2014

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Behind The Barcode report found:

  • 97% of electronics companies could not demonstrate they were paying workers enough to meet their basic needs
  • Only 18% of companies had even partial knowledge of where their raw materials were sourced
  • 34% of companies had a code of conduct which included workers’ rights to collective bargaining, but only one company could demonstrate that there was a collective bargaining agreement in place

Sydney, Australia: With mounting pressure on the electronics industry to ensure worker rights are respected, Nokia was found to be the only electronics company out of 39 investigated who demonstrated they were paying workers sufficient wages to meet their basic needs in countries like India and China, according to a new Electronics Industry Trends Report.

The research, conducted by international aid and development organisation, Baptist World Aid Australia in conjunction with their partner Not for Sale, a U.S. anti-slavery campaign, is the second report in the Behind the Barcode series released by the organisations, stemming from a need to educate consumers to shop ethically.

Public interest about how our gadgets are made has also been spurred by the rise of super brands like Apple and Samsung, combined with growing public concern about exploitation and child labour in Chinese electronics factories, and fears about the use of conflict minerals sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Electronics Industry Trends Report graded the labour rights practices of 39 electronics companies, and found no company achieved an A grade.

Nokia was the overall best performer, with a B+ grade and a demonstration that they were paying workers a living wages. Tech giants Apple, Samsung and Motorola scored a B+, B and B- respectively whilst Australian brand Kogan received a D-.   

The detailed grading in the report investigates systems companies have in place to ensure worker rights in their supply chain, protecting them from exploitation, forced labour and child labour.  

As the research aims to empower consumers with the knowledge needed to purchase their electronics products ethically, the grades have been condensed into the Ethical Electronics Guide, which provides consumers with a pocket sized tool to use on the go.

The Guide includes the overall grades companies scored, and whether they guarantee workers a living wage.  

Advocacy Manager of Baptist World Aid, Gershon Nimbalker explains their biggest concern is that the minimum wage rate in many countries doesn’t cover a family’s basic cost of living - hence the organisation’s focus on the living wage.

The research revealed that 97% of companies, all bar one, were unable to demonstrate that they were paying their workers wages that were sufficient for them to live on.

“We know through our work in the field that payment of a ‘living wage’ is critical in empowering individuals and communities to overcome poverty and unfortunately Australian brands aren’t exempt from this finding either.

“Workers in developing countries work long hours in often oppressive conditions to make the phones, TVs and tablets that we enjoy. The additional cost to ensure that they are rewarded for their efforts with a wage that is sufficient for them and their families to live is only a few dollars per product. By some estimates, as little as two to nine dollars per smart phone or less than 1.5% of the total price.”

The Electronics Industry is commended in one stage of assessment, with the report finding that 49% of the graded companies, including many of the sectors largest brands, knew almost all of their suppliers at the final stage of production. However, the report found that deeper down the supply chain, at the raw materials level, no company had complete knowledge of where there materials were sourced and only 18% of companies had even partial knowledge.

“If companies don’t know or don’t care who is producing their products, it’s much harder to know whether workers are being exploited or even enslaved,” Nimbalker said.

The report also found that while 34% of companies had codes of conduct that included the right to collective bargaining, only Nokia could demonstrate that this code was making a difference on the ground, being the only company that demonstrated the existence of factories with collective bargaining agreements in place.

“The ability for workers in developing countries to organise and negotiate collectively is absolutely essential for balancing the bargaining power of employers. We commend Nokia for recognising this and putting it into practice,” Nimbalker said.

“It’s great to see these strong initiatives by Nokia to ensure workers aren’t exploited and the efforts of a number of companies in the industry to prevent the use of forced labour and child labour at the final stages of production. We want to encourage the industry to go further by embracing living wage policies and also ensuring that they trace their entire supply chain all the way down to the raw materials level, where some of the worst abuses often occur”, Nimbalker said.

“We’d also like to see the industry become more transparent about their initiative so consumers can make their ethical purchasing decisions easily,” he adds.

“We know that when consumers call for change, they have the power to transform the practices of companies and through them the communities they work with. We’re excited about the impact this report will have,” Nimbalker said.

Individuals can order a digital copy of the Ethical Electronics Guide to help them shop ethically by visiting Baptist World Aid’s website www.behindthebarcode.org.au. A download of the full Electronics Industry Trends report is also available at this website.

-ends-

Media Contact

Caitlin Ramrakha

Baptist World Aid Australia

02 9921 3365

Caitlin.Ramrakha@baptistworldaid.org.au


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