2019 July 11

On Worker Well-Being - Suggestions for the Electronics Industry

Two days prior to the public release of the Economic Rights Institute and Electronics Watch study on the link between employment conditions and employee suicide in China's electronics industry, the Responsible Business Alliance announced a new initiative to improve "worker well-being" in manufacturing supply chains in Asia.  While this is a visibly larger investment in quality of life issues than previous industry efforts, the ERI and Electronics Watch urge the industry not to lose sight of the link between these issues, the risk of suicide, and employment conditions.

The ERI and Electronics Watch study drew particular attention to high risk conditions such as forced overtime and restrictions of workers’ right to resign from their jobs without forfeiting their wages. Our suggestions for RBA’s worker wellbeing program include:

  • Work with civil society and sociological experts, not just medical experts, to ensure continued focus on the link between worker wellbeing and employment conditions.
  • The worker “well-being” frame may promote a positive mindset while driving needed improvements to employment conditions, but do not lose sight of the risks of suicide, which represent the risk of serious injury to workers.
  • Build on the ERI and Electronics Watch study to test our hypotheses of specific links between employment conditions and employee well-being.

The challenge for industry may be to shift from charitable efforts to promote the individual wellness of workers to addressing the wider issues of employers’ responsibilities in production and employment relations. We hope the industry is ready for this challenge.

Response from the Responsible Business Alliance (12 July, 2019)

Thank you for the input on the upcoming worker survey. As you are aware, the RBA was founded in 2004 with the focus of the original Code of Conduct on the worker. Our vision is: A global industry that creates sustainable value for workers, the environment and business.

The RBA is a leading organization in the areas of forced labor, the workplace environment, employment conditions, etc. as evidenced in our Code of Conduct and the work of our Initiatives. We work tirelessly to address issues in the workplace that may lead to conditions that create stress and impact worker well-being in the workplace. The focus on these issues was not identified or created during the last twelve months but rather over 15 years of committed work in this space.

We are very excited about the creation of a worker survey with our trusted, credible, partners Impactt and Ulula. We are confident that it will represent the single most extensive worker survey conducted in the industry. It is designed to identify the challenges that are present in the workplace and will help create a road map to address any systemic issues that are identified in a meaningful and impactful way on behalf of the industry and the RBA. The goal of this new tool will in fact link working conditions to worker well-being.

While the development of the actual worker survey has just begun, we will as you outlined, be seeking input from health experts, researchers and stakeholders both from within and outside the industry. We have not yet identified the list of experts that we will utilizing.

We view the survey as only one input into a broader body of work in the area of workplace wellbeing.  The survey is only a tool to identify the challenges workers face. The impactful work of advancing the wellbeing of workers will be developed in response to the survey results which will include external stakeholder consultation. Thank you for your offer to provide input.