Mobile responsibility? A look at the human rights and sustainability practices of Finnish mobile network operators DNA, Elisa and TeliaSonera

In 2009, Finnwatch and its partners in the makeITfair project published a comparative study looking at the responsibility of Finnish and other European mobile network operators. The results showed that there was a huge need for improvements along the entire production chain and that responsible mobile devices were still a long way off. The current report looks at how the responsibility practices of the three largest Finnish operators – DNA, Elisa and TeliaSonera – have changed over the past years. Between them, they provide 98 percent of Finnish mobile subscriptions. The companies have progressed in this regard compared to the 2009 report. Still, many problems and challenges remain, as even the best responsibility code is not effective unless it is adhered to.

Mobile responsibility? A look at the human rights and sustainability practices of Finnish mobile network operators DNA, Elisa and TeliaSonera

In the so-called industrialised countries and emerging markets, practically everyone has a mobile phone and mobile technology is omnipresent. This is increasingly the case in poorer countries, too.
In addition to providing networks, telecommunications operators are also major vendors of mobile devices and other communication technology. It is their duty to ensure that social, ecological and economic responsibility is respected throughout their operations and supply chains and to try to prevent the use of their technology and services for human rights violations.

In 2009, Finnwatch and its partners in the makeITfair project published a comparative study looking at the responsibility of Finnish and other European mobile network operators. The results showed that there was a huge need for improvements along the entire production chain and that responsible mobile devices were still a long way off.

This current report looks at how the responsibility practices of the three largest Finnish operators – DNA, Elisa and TeliaSonera –  have changed over the past years. Between them, they provide 98 percent of Finnish mobile subscriptions. At the end of 2011, Elisa’s market share was 39 percent, TeliaSonera’s 35 percent and DNA’s 24 percent. All three companies have ethical guidelines and codes of conduct that their suppliers are expected to follow. All codes ban forced and child labour as well as discrimination and intimidation, require workplace safety and sound health practices, and contain general formulations on environmental responsibility. The companies have progressed in this regard compared to the 2009 report. At the time, DNA had no supplier code and Elisa decided not to respond to our questionnaire or disclose information on its supply chain responsibility practices. TeliaSonera, which had the most advanced responsibility systems three years ago, has also improved its codes and practices.

Still, many problems and challenges remain. To ensure decent terms of employment, DNA, Elisa and TeliaSonera should demand their suppliers to pay a living wage that covers the basic necessities and allows for small savings and to guarantee genuine freedom of association. In many key producing countries both of these are often neglected. They should also impose stricter limits on overtime and the use of temporary workers, and require written contracts and safe grievance mechanisms. Th e supplier codes should apply to all suppliers in risk countries – that is not the case today.

But even the best responsibility code is not effective unless it is adhered to. All three companies should further develop their systems for monitoring compliance and be more transparent about their auditing practices. They should also adopt measures towards regular and reliable audits throughout the supply chain by independent and certified third parties. At the moment, audits only concern the first tier suppliers and are largely controlled by the companies themselves, which raises questions of objectivity and reliability.

Cooperation between operators, distributors, importers and recyclers should be improved to build a better business case for recycling and reuse. At the present, only a small percentage of mobile phones are reused. DNA and Elisa should be more transparent about their recycling practices and partner companies. TeliaSonera was the only company that publicly named the companies that handle its reusable and recycled devices.

TeliaSonera, which has been implicated in human rights violations resulting from the use of communications data by authoritarian regimes, should use its leverage in international standard-setting bodies to influence the rules covering network integrity and the disclosure of communications data to third parties. It should also seek to address the existing problems relating to the use of communications data in many of its countries of operation.

Public authorities also have a role to play. Finland could take a more active role in developing new, human rights oriented international standards on network integrity and the privacy of communications data. Finnish authorities should also improve the control and oversight of all electronic waste and recycled material export.

 

Detailed recommendations

TO COMPANIES

  • DNA, Elisa and TeliaSonera should demand their suppliers to pay a living wage that covers the basic necessities and allows for small savings
  • They should also guarantee genuine freedom of association and to include such requirements in their supplier codes. In places where true freedom of association is not the norm, companies should actively support it, for instance, through demanding the setting up of worker committees in their supplier codes.
  • The supplier codes should also include stricter language on overtime, written employment contracts, use of temporary workers and grievance mechanisms (such as easy and safe channels for bringing up inappropriate terms and conditions of employment) than what is the case today.
  • All suppliers in risk countries should be covered by the supplier codes.


All three companies should be more transparent and open about their monitoring and auditing practices. Information on the number and percentage of suppliers covered by the supplier codes
and audits, as well as audit results, should be made publicly available.

  • To ensure compliance with their supply codes, all three companies should take measures towards regular and reliable audits throughout the supply chain by independent and certified third parties. One possible step forward could be joining the Joint Audition Cooperation (JAC), although it is an industry-only initiative controlled by the companies themselves and thus its objectivity may be called into question.
  • To increase the return rate of old devices and encourage reuse and recycling, the companies should make their customers more aware of the benefi ts of reuse and responsible recycling and
  • of the threats posed by irresponsible disposal of electronic products. The companies should provide better incentives for customers to return their old phones. In this sense, the present trend in Finland towards deals where the subscription is tied to the purchase of a phone is somewhat worrying.
  • Cooperation between operators, distributors, importers and recyclers should be improved to build a better business case for recycling and reuse. As pointed out by TeliaSonera, this would require putting in place incentivising reverse financial flows.
  • DNA and Elisa should be more transparent about their recycling practices and partner companies. (TeliaSonera was the only company that publicly named the companies that handle its reusable and recycled devices.) DNA did not name its partners at all, while Elisa asked this not to be published.
  • TeliaSonera should use its leverage in international standard-setting bodies, such as the European Telecommunications Standard Insitute, to infl uence the rules governing network integrity and the disclosure of communications data to third parties. It should also seek to address the existing problems relating to the use of communications data by authoritative regimes in its countries of operation.
  • TeliaSonera should consider applying for membership at the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a multi-stakeholder process including industry, civil society, investor and academic members working to advance the freedom of expression and privacy, and/or committing to its principles.


 TO DECISION-MAKERS

  • Authorities should improve the control and oversight of all electronic waste and recycled material export. While Finland is considered to be among the more advanced countries in terms of responsible recycling of e-waste, evidence suggests that at least some amount of harmful materials are illicitly exported from Finland.
  • The return and recycling of old electronic products should be made easier. One possible measure could be placing more return points in easily accessible public places. See www.globalnetworkinitiative.org for more details.
  • The regulatory framework should provide incentives for both companies and consumers to prolong the life cycle of electronic products.
  • Finland could make use of its international reputation as a model country for freedom of expression and lack of corruption to take a more active role in developing new international standards on network integrity and the privacy of communications data that would make it more diffi cult to use this information for human rights violations.
  • Finland should make sure that all national policies and practices have been updated to meet the requirements of the EU’s revised WEEE directive.

 

TO CONSUMERS

  • To reduce the amount of electronic waste generated and natural resources used, consumers should use electronic devices longer than what is the case today.
  • Consumers should take their functional old devices back to the shop so that they could be reused by someone else. Broken devices should be properly recycled.
  • Instead of buying the latest model, consumers should prefer and actively ask for functional second-hand phones. Buying used is the most ethical choice a consumer can make. Demand for

reusable devices and responsible business practices also encourages the companies to improve their practices.

  • Consumers should also demand products that are ecologically and socially more responsible and ethical than those on the market today.