Social responsibility – a challenge in the IT product supply chain

Ensuring responsible supply chain practices is a persistent challenge in the IT industry. Excessive overtime, health and safety risks, and forced labor are examples of issues that need to be addressed. A systematic approach is necessary to drive change and safeguard the well-being of workers.

Thousands of people are involved in the production of computers, phones and other IT products, from the miners who dig up the minerals used in electronic components all the way to the workers in the final assembly factories. The supply chains are complex and often employ workers in countries where the labor market lacks clear regulation, or legislated labor rights are not enforced. This results in poor working conditions where human health and lives are at risk. Workers face various difficulties and injustices, such as forced labor, lack of freedom of association, health and safety risks, and the inability to earn a living wage without agreeing to excessive overtime.

Further up the supply chain, the mineral industry is linked to armed conflicts, human rights abuses, child labor, severe health problems for workers, and environmental degradation. Bribery is a risk present in many industries, and the IT supply chain is no exception. It is crucial to counteract bribery as it hinders development, erodes justice, undermines human rights, and interferes with the fair and efficient operation of markets.

Focus areas for social responsibility

Labor law violations

When wages are too low, and local authorities and employers fail to enforce working hour boundaries, workers are pressured to work excessive overtime in order to earn a living wage. This leads to health problems including stress, fatigue and risk of injury. Other labor rights violations include young workers being put in dangerous situations, unclear employment contracts, harassment and discrimination.

Forced labor

Work without voluntary agreement is forced labor. This includes work carried out to avoid punishment, physical or sexual violence, or confiscation of belongings such as ID papers or passports. Migrants, students and temporary workers are particularly vulnerable and more often subject to discrimination and unfair terms of employment.

Health and safety risks

The work environment can sometimes risk workers’ health and life. For example, machines used in manufacturing may be dangerous to operate, and workers may not be trained to operate them, or lack protective equipment. Workers may come in contact with hazardous substances. Another risk is when emergency exits are blocked, or too few.