At the occasion of the Nokia human rights summit on 29 and 30 September 2010 in Helsinki, the GoodElectronics Network and makeITfair are publishing an Open Letter to Nokia. The Open Letter is intended as a ‘shot across the bow’, providing input for the discussion at the Helsinki meeting, as well as for continued dialogue with Nokia. GoodElectronics and makeITfair want to inform their constituencies and contacts about the meeting and the topics they hope to broach. Nokia specifically puts ‘living wage’ and ‘special economic zones’ on the agenda of its human rights summit. GoodElectronics and makeITfair agree these are important topics, but are of the opinion that these should be looked at in connection with general corporate social responsibility principles and other social and economic as well as environmental issues.

GoodElectronics and makeITfair appreciate that Nokia makes work of stakeholder consultation. As an influential world leader in telecommunication with a majority share in the market of mobile phones, Nokia does indeed have a responsibility to show leadership on human rights and environmental issues. In this respect we would like to refer to John Ruggie, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises, who states that “The corporate responsibility to respect human rights means to avoid infringing on the rights of others and addressing adverse impacts that may occur. This responsibility applies across an enterprise’s activities and through its relationships with other parties, such as business partners, entities in its value chain, other non-state actors and state agents. Suppliers have the same responsibility to respect human rights as any other business entity. However, this note focuses on enterprises that purchase goods and services from suppliers. It outlines decision logic for them to manage adverse human rights impacts in their supply chains and meet their responsibility to respect human rights.” (Discussion paper. The corporate responsibility to respect human rights in supply chains. 10th OECD roundtable on corporate responsibility, 30 June 2010).

Over the past years, Nokia has repeatedly been addressed by various stakeholders including trade unions, labour groups, consumer campaigns, environmental organisations and ethical investors with various concerns and demands over human rights and environmental issues in Nokia’s global supply chain. Supportive of and in accordance with the cases raised by civil society, GoodElectronics and makeITfair would like to suggest a number of important issues for Nokia to take action on. Moreover, to illustrate the topics presented in this letter, some examples of recent and/or ongoing cases of labour issues are put forward.

GoodElectronics and makeITfair call upon Nokia:
  • To ensure its corporate responsibility policies and practices are rooted in national legislation, internationally adopted standards and widely accepted principles of good governance and responsible corporate behaviour. We call upon Nokia to integrate human rights norms in its overall business operations, in alignment with the ‘protect, respect, remedy’ framework that is currently being developed by John Ruggie. For example, by properly integrating human rights standards into its purchasing practices in order to avoid contradiction between ethical demands and buying practices.
  • To include the notion of extended supply chain responsibility in its CSR policies and practices. Internal monitoring combined with external, independent verification are key for a credible supplier management system. 
  • To improve its CSR policy documents, including the Nokia Code of Conduct, the Nokia Labor Conditions Standard, and the Supplier Requirements, by
  • strengthening the language on Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining in accordance with ILO conventions 87, 98 and 135;
  • including the right to a living wage in accordance with the ILO Tripartite Declaration of principles, art. 34;
  • including a cap on working hours of no more than 48 hours and no more than 12 overtime hours per week, in accordance with ILO Conventions 1 and 30;
  • including the right to security of employment ILO Tripartite Declaration of principles, art. 24-28;
  • ensuring that third party labour agencies providing workers are compliant with the provisions of the CSR policies.
  • To take a stand against precarious work, by ensuring regular employment to workers; Nokia should refrain from excessive use of temporary employment both in its own factories as well as at the supplier level and commit to converting temporary contracts into regular contracts as much as possible. Temporary contracts should be restricted to cases of genuine need. Setting a proportional maximum to casual workers is an option. In all events, casual workers are to be treated equally to regular workers. We call upon Nokia to apply transparency about the percentages of temporary versus regular contracts.
  • To develop and facilitate mature relations with trade unions representing workers at its own production locations as well as in suppliers’ production facilities. We would like to ask Nokia to facilitate the establishment of credible, democratically elected trade unions and other forms of workers representation throughout its supply chain. Nokia should stand up against the repression of workers who defend their rights and take active steps to dispel the reluctance of workers and labour activists to engage in union activities for fear of repercussions. Reference to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining should be included in supplier contracts. Further we call upon Nokia to agree upon signing an International Framework Agreement with the International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF).
  • To involve local and international stakeholders on a structural and equal basis in elaborating, revising, and implementing CSR policy documents, social audits, corrective action plans, as well as in specific sustainable supply chain projects, in the countries where Nokia is producing and sourcing.
  • To facilitate the set-up of credible, independently run grievance mechanisms throughout its supply chain.
  • To allow and where necessary facilitate workers rights trainings by trade unions and independent NGOs. Such trainings should be based upon audit findings, factory visits and workers interviews to ensure they are placed in context. Obtaining the support of suppliers for participation in such training programmes is essential.
  • To develop clear policies and practices on the payment of a living wage within the sphere of its activities and influence. It is important to match this with an active policy to uphold freedom of association and the rights to collective bargaining to enable workers to negotiate wage levels, as well as other labour conditions. Note that there is a clear link between paying a living wage and child labour (which is most relevant in India). Paying a living age also directly contributes to decreasing the gender pay gap.
  • To ensure internationally accepted labour standards are respected in special economic zones, in particular freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. We call upon Nokia to refrain from taking advantage of the willingness of local governments to offer tax and other incentives in order to attract foreign direct investment. Playing off (local) governments against one another or actively lobbying for incentives contributes in an irresponsible manner to the ‘race to the bottom’.
  • To re-consider its approach regarding conflict minerals, in particular minerals originating from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Rather than a complete ban of minerals from conflict regions, Nokia should take pro-active measures to stimulate sustainable, non-conflict related sourcing of minerals from the region. We ask Nokia to apply the highest standard of due diligence, and should, as a minimum, involve local stakeholders in its efforts to apply systems of sustainable sourcing from the DRC. To further develop transparent tracking and tracing systems of minerals used in its products.
  • To improve its performance in recycling. The recycling rate (now at a poor 3 to 5 percent) should be increased and more information should be provided on how these rates are actually calculated. More visibility should be given to take-back programmes of redundant mobile phones. Also, Nokia should start using recycled plastics beyond just for packaging. Nokia should support restrictions on at least PVC vinyl plastic, chlorinated flame retardants (CFRs) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in the next 3-5 years i.e. in RoHS 2.0; Nokia should explore options for operationalising Individual Producer Responsibility (IPR) and continue to lobby for IPR, inter alia to ensure the revised WEEE legislation sets clearer requirements (enforcement criteria) for the implementation of IPR by enforcing: differentiated financing for own-brand real end-of-life costs (e.g. no longer collective financing such as market share but individual financing such as return share) for WEEE and preventing the indefinite use of the Visible Fee. Nokia should push openly for progressive climate legislation, as well as call for global GHG emissions to peak by 2015. (Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics, version 15, May 2010).
  • To report transparently about production locations, suppliers, the implementation of its code of conduct, audit findings, corrective action plans, etc.


  • India: Labour practices in the Nokia Special Economic Zone at Sriperumbudur criticised

The Nokia Special Economic Zone (SEZ) at Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, India, hosts production facilities of Nokia as well as of Nokia’s major suppliers, including Foxconn. In the past year, Nokia Sriperumbudur workers went on strike at three occasions, in August 2009, January 2010 and in July 2010 respectively, to denounce low wages, and lack of career prospective. Just last week, 1,500 Foxconn workers in the Sriperumbudur SEZ staged a sit-in to enforce demands for a wage increase. This strike was organised after the management had refused to engage upon wage negotiations with the local CITU-affiliated labour union FITS. 

In the analysis of Indian labour rights organisation Cividep, Nokia’s ambition and drive to expand its grip over the Indian market has implications for workers and working conditions on the shop-floor. The Nokia Sriperumbudur SEZ may have been lauded for its “world-class manufacturing ecosystem” as proof of India’s capability as a “low cost manufacturing country”, but this is without mentioning that it is workers and communities bearing the brunt of the low-wage, high-intensity, precarious jobs that are created. The overall industrial relations policy of the mobile phone companies seems to create a reserve army of cheap labour in the area, available to be hired whenever required and vulnerable enough to be retrenched at will. Nokia insists on hiring a very young workforce, mostly women, with a preference for workers who are recruited from far-off towns and villages over the local youth, and demonstrates a clear intolerance of any attempts to form associations or unions. (Changing industrial relations in India’s mobile phone manufacturing industry, Cividep, September 2010)

According to the Citizens’ Research Collective labour regulations restricting the use of contract labour have been loosened for companies operating in special economic zones throughout India, at least for non-manufacturing activities. De facto, companies have obtained the right to hire and fire labour at will. The right of workers to strike has been restricted by classifying ICT manufacturing as “public utility”. Nokia is happily operating under these conditions: in the Sriperumbudur SEZ many non-manufacturing workers like warehouse staff, security personnel, drivers, cleaners etc, are contract workers. (The Public Price of Success. The costs of the Nokia Telecom SEZ in Chennai for the government and workers, Citizens’ Research Collective, June 2009).

  • India: Government support for Nokia at the expense of public funds

The success of the Nokia SEZ in Sriperumbudur has been funded with public money, argues the Citizens’ Research Collective. In the first place, the direct expenditure made by the Tamil Nadu government in terms of land allotments, infrastructure development, and the reimbursement of Nokia’s payments of value-added tax (VAT) on domestic sales amounts to the value of Nokia’s investments in infrastructure. This means it is actually the state government which is paying for the company’s infrastructure. In the second place, there is the loss of revenue which the state would have acquired if normal taxes had been applied. Indeed, the total estimated amount that the Tamil Nadu government has paid Nokia is Rs. 645.4 crores. Of course employment is generated, for a few thousand workers, but the low salaries, the frequent use of contract labour and the imposition of the ‘public utility’ status to ‘curb labour unrest’ and to prevent strikes, make the jobs seem more exploitative than beneficial. Finally, it is found that Nokia sells its phones mainly within India but still manages to get these counted towards export. The conclusion is that if the Nokia SEZ is a success, then it certainly comes at a high price for the public and for the exclusive benefit of a private company.

  • Mexico: Unfair dismissal of temporary Nokia workers

 In the Mexican city of Reynosa, in one of the city’s three industrial parks, Nokia has two plants that have become the country’s most important production centres for mobile phones. Just before the end of 2008, both Nokia factories were employing nearly 4,500 workers. But, with sales dropping worldwide, Nokia had to cut personnel. Between December 2008 and January 2009, Nokia terminated the employment of around 2,000 workers; most of them were subcontracted by two employment agencies, Adecco and Manpower. Nevertheless, Nokia was still their employer according to Mexican law, stresses labour rights organisation Cereal in its November 2009 report.  In the midst of the wave of workforce cut backs happening around the world, the staff cut at Nokia seemed like just one more. But, the way Nokia dismissed these workers cannot go unnoticed. To begin with, the workers were asked to sign a “voluntary” resignation. Workers who doubted whether they were going to sign were convinced to do so by the promise of being rehired later, if they signed the resignation form. The workers who definitively refused to sign were threatened with having their names included in a blacklist. Among those laid off were 20 pregnant women who complained of being mistreated during the dismissal procedures. In Mexico, like other countries, when a worker gets dismissed, he or she is entitled to a severance payment. But if the worker signs a voluntary resignation, he or she loses the right to claim that payment. The procedure implemented by Nokia in Reynosa had the purpose of avoiding the severance pay of these workers. Some tens of workers did not accept this and undertook action. They wrote to Nokia executives in Finland, asking them to review the situation. After weeks of silence, Nokia explained in a letter that they had conducted an in-depth investigation and had found no irregularity whatsoever in the dismissal procedures. Nokia also added that they interviewed all the dismissed workers and absolutely everyone had agreed with the procedures of Nokia and its agencies. Soon enough, the workers discovered that none of them had been interviewed by Nokia, which revealed the lack of seriousness of the company. Immediately, a group of workers filed a legal demand against Nokia at the labour court, demanding full severance payment. In the following months, Nokia kept refusing to give severance payment, but also refused to talk with the workers using the argument that the workers had preferred the legal way instead of the dialogue. The workers organised public demonstrations in several occasions. After seven long months, Nokia agreed to give full severance pay to the workers and medical cover to the pregnant women that had been laid off. This is a sign that the workers hired through an employment agency could assert their rights. (Labour rights in a time of crisis. Third report on working conditions in the Mexican electronics industry, Centre for Reflection and Action on Labour Issues (Cereal), ‘Nokia: a massive swindle’, page 12-13, November 2009).

  • Mexico: Nokia allows yellow union to undermine workers rights

 14 years ago, when Nokia started producing in Reynosa, a trade union was in place, an affiliate of the Confederation de trabajadores de Mexico (CTM). The general secretary of that time, Jesús V. Martínez Robles, is still occupying the same position today. There is no question of democratic elections of the trade union leadership. Information about nomination and election is typically too little and too late. The principle of secret voting is not respected; voting is done by showing hands. Union meetings normally last no more than an hour, and generally only a minor part of the total workforce participates. Union fees are automatically deducted from the workers’ salaries: 16 pesos per week of an average weekly wage of 630 pesos. Most workers will not even know they are member of the union, and many workers do not feel represented by the union at all. In short, this is a typical ‘yellow union’. Trade union secretary general Mr Robles has repeatedly threatened workers with repercussions would participate in any action against Nokia. (Information provided by Mexican labour rights organisation Cereal, in an email dated 1 September 2010).

  • China: Nokia demonstrates cold water fear in engaging with local stakeholders

Throughout 2010, Nokia has been in contact with the Hong Kong-based labour rights organisation Sacom about the possibility for Sacom and its local partners to provide workers rights trainings to the Chinese labour force of Wintek, an important supplier to Nokia. The idea for this project came after critical non-compliances were detected at the Dongguan Masstop production facility, a Wintek subsidiary in China. On the basis of research and contacts with workers, Sacom reported about instances of excessive overtime (including on public holidays), insufficient overtime payment, wage reductions without negotiations, unjustified dismissals, lack of food hygiene, and the lack of effective workers’ representation. After months of exchanges and negotiations, Nokia told Sacom that there was no need for the joint training project with Sacom ‘as Wintek has completed their own training program and has proceeded with other improvements’.  According to Sacom, the chance to deliver a full-blown, meaningful training to the Wintek workers has been wasted. Sacom stresses that serious workers rights training includes factory visits and a needs assessment to make sure workers rights are introduced in the context of the factories concerned.


GoodElectronics is an international network of NGOs, trade unions, researchers, social activists working on sustainability and human rights in the global electronics supply chain. In the GoodElectronics ‘Common Demands’, issues, concerns and demands made to the electronics industry are summarised.

makeITfair is a European project focusing on the electronics industry, especially on consumer electronics like mobile phones, laptops and MP3 players. makeITfair wants to let young people across Europe know about labour abuses and environmental problems in the electronics industry. makeITfair holds big brand electronics companies to account – asking them to take responsibility for the labour abuses and environmental damage in their supply chain.