The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights may form the common ground between electronics companies and civil society organisations in addressing labour issues such as the excessive use of temporary labour. This is an important outcome of the Round Table on worker’s rights in the global electronics sector organised by GoodElectronics and makeITfair in May 2012 in Amsterdam.
On 9 and 10 May 2012, more than 80 participants representing civil society organisations (CSOs), major electronics brands and contract manufacturers, came together in the Dutch city of Amsterdam to exchange information and discuss key topics such as excessive use of temporary labour and wage issues in the global electronics industry. Participating electronics brand companies included Dell, LG Electronics, Microsoft, Philips, RIM, Samsung, and Sony. Participating manufacturers included Flextronics and Jabil. Mobile network operators present were Belgacom, Deutsche Telekom, KPN and Vodafone. Industry associations EICC and GeSI were also represented. IndustriALL Global Union represented the voice of electronics workers worldwide. Moreover, a great number of Southern labour groups, academics, activists and other interested parties took part in the meeting.
There were exchanges on the precarious position of temporary and migrant labour, the role of employment agencies, living wage, engagement between electronics companies and CSOs, and much more. Discussions took place in the context of the overarching themes of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.
Steps forward - UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
A great number of possible steps forward were discussed at the Round Table, most of them presented by CSOs. There are clear leads for further discussion and engagement between the industry and CSOs and substantial proposals for electronics companies to work on. A predominant proposal is about the electronics industry to make headway with applying the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Electronics companies should perform human rights due diligence and minimise the actual and potential risks of human rights violations. This includes carrying out risk assessments before investing and/or sourcing in a country, looking into relevant labour laws and practices. There was encouraging interest among companies to use the UN Guiding Principles to abate for instance the excessive use of temporary labour.
Shared sense of urgency?
However, the industry did not seem to be sharing the sense of urgency that trade unions and CSOs conveyed. Some corporate representatives acknowledged that there is still a long way to go towards respecting labour rights in the global electronics sector, but others stressed that a lot has already been achieved, both by individual companies and by the industry associations. In contrast, trade unions and NGOs from all different sides of the globe kept pointing out the widespread and on-going violation of workers’ rights.
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