2024 May 27

Electronics Watch shares expertise with UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights

Electronics Watch has submitted a statement on toxics in the electronics industry, based on evidence gathered through worker-driven monitoring and extensive expert consultations

The UN recognises that exposure to toxics and hazardous substances is a major and growing problem worldwide, and one that has important impacts on work, income, lifelong health, and individual and community wellbeing. The Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Marcos Orellana, is currently examining gender and toxics in more detail and invited input for the preparation of his thematic report.

Workers at all tiers of the electronics supply chain handle toxic chemicals, such as solvents, adhesives, resins and etchants that can cause illness and even death after prolonged exposure with inadequate industrial hygiene. Most of these workers are silenced—they cannot voice concerns or suggest measures for a healthier work environment.

Although ILO Convention 155, recently classified as a "fundamental" Convention, gives workers the right to information and training, the right to be consulted and the right to refuse work that poses imminent, serious danger, Electronics Watch continues to find serious chemical issues for workers, especially in lower tiers.  We are currently addressing cases where workers are harmed by chemical spills, exposure to fumes, lack of PPE and lack of training on working with chemicals.  These  workers are not informed of the specific chemicals they are working with, making it harder to protect themselves from harm. Women and men both report reproductive health problems.

Our submission included some of the tools and guidance we have produced to support public buyers to protect the health of workers in their supply chains:

  • Guidance for public buyers on how to protect workers from chemical hazards in electronics supply chains. This guidance covers the precautionary principle, which requires companies to take action when credible threats of harm exist, and the hierarchy of controls, which ranks protective measures from most to least effective.
  • The Electronics Watch Code which sets out occupational health and safety (OHS) standards, stating that hazardous chemicals should be replaced with substitutes that are "significantly less toxic, persistent, bio accumulative or bio concentrating, carcinogenic, mutagenic, neurotoxic, endocrine disrupting, or hazardous to reproduction and development."

We also highlighted our training for worker leaders and trade unionists on OHS, with a focus on mapping workplaces to understand the hazards, and the importance of setting up occupational health and safety committees.

Electronics Watch looks forward to the Special Rapporteur’s thematic report and recommendations on toxics when it is published in September.