Electronics Watch is an independent monitoring organisation that assists public sector buyers to meet their responsibility to protect the labour rights of workers in their global electronics supply chains more effectively and less expensively than any single public sector buyer could accomplish on its own.
During the last decades the global electronics industry has become one of the largest in the global economy. There are an estimated 18 million electronics workers who generate 25% of global trade in manufactured goods. Electronics brands are some of the most valuable companies in the world. As of 2016, Foxconn, an electronics contract manufacturing company, is the world's second largest private employer.
Unfortunately, workers have helped shoulder the cost of industry growth.
Since the 1980's brands have transferred labour intensive activities to low cost locations across the globe, including Southeast Asia, China, India, Eastern Europe, and Mexico.
Frequent new product development, short product life cycles, market uncertainty, lack of production forecasting, and minimal brand inventory result in production peaks and valleys, late orders, and changes to orders in midstream. Factories must produce increasingly complex products "just-in-time," with expectations of ever shorter time-to-market (the length of time it takes from conceiving a product to making it available for sale). Delays anywhere in the supply chain are costly and downward price pressure further reduce margins for error.
Workers often have to absorb these production stresses. Factories demand excessive overtime hours to complete orders on time, and increasingly use temporary workers—often migrant, agency, or student workers— who may be paid less, have fewer benefits, and are more vulnerable to abuse than regular workers. Lawmakers have relaxed labour laws in a number of countries to make it easier for companies to hire temporary workers.
Fast and low cost production often causes friction with workers' fundamental labour rights, the freedoms from forced labour and child labour, non-discrimination, the freedom of association, and the right to collective bargaining. Democratic and independent unions struggle to organize the rapidly increasing numbers of temporary workers, and most workers have little chance to bargain collectively on their conditions of employment and no access to effective grievance mechanisms. As a result, workers are increasingly vulnerable to other abuses, including serious health and safety hazards, such as prolonged exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.
The Electronics Watch solution
Electronics Watch believes that the public sector, in its role as consumer, can help to change this picture. Public sector organisations value social responsibility and sustainability along with transparency and fair competition. They are large consumers of ICT hardware such as portable and desktop computers, printers, display screens, and media storage, and purchase these products through long-term contracts. They can, therefore, create market opportunities for companies that commit to respect labour rights and safety standards in global supply chains, and hold them accountable for any failure to do so.
Electronics Watch organises public sector buyers and gives them the essential tools to create effective market demand for decent working conditions in their ICT hardware supply chains. Public sector affiliate members pool resources through Electronics Watch to obtain reliable intelligence about working conditions at significantly reduced cost. They insert the Electronics Watch Contract Conditions in ICT hardware contracts, requiring their contractors to exercise due diligence to achieve respect for labour rights and safety standards in factories that assemble or make the components of the goods they purchase. When public sector buyers in many countries take action together, based on the same supply chain intelligence and the same enforceable contract requirements, working conditions can improve.
Electronics Watch is the result of a €1 million European Commission funded project from 2013-2015, led by the NGO SETEM Catalunya. Other project partners were Centrum CSR (Poland), DanWatch (Denmark), People and Planet (UK), SOMO (Netherlands), Südwind (Austria), and WEED (Germany). This consortium conducted research on the electronics industry and developed model contract clauses, a code of labour standards, and other procurement tools consistent with EU public procurement directives. They fostered dialogue and educational forums with public sector buyers in many regions across Europe and recruited the first affiliates to Electronics Watch. The project ended in 2015 and Electronics Watch is now an organisation independent from the original project partners. However, many of them remain active, educating their constituencies about socially responsible public procurement and working conditions in the global electronics industry.