The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) is proceeding with the preparations for an ambitious programme fro the global electronics sector. With an initial focus on China, IDH aims at contributing to improving the working conditions of 500,000 workers in the global electronic sector over a period of four years. Dell, Hewlett Packard and Philips are involved on the company side. The GoodElectronics network, together with Dutch trade union FNV and the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations SOMO, make up the civil society component. At the moment, interested suppliers to the participating brands in the Chinese Pearl River Delta are identified, as well as local NGOs, including training providers.

The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH). In its own words, the objective of the IDH is to improve the sustainability of international supply chains, by tackling social, ecological and economical bottlenecks for the first chain actors in developing countries. The Initiative is a multi-stakeholder process in which actors from both Northern and Southern (production) countries actively participate. Government, private sector, labour unions and non-governmental organisations jointly implement sectoral improvement programmes, as well as an (inter-)sectoral learning programme. The sectors that are already implementing a programme in the context of the Sustainable Trade Initiative are: tropical timbre and other forest products, soy, nature stone, cocoa, tea, tourism, aquaculture and cotton. Click here to read more about IDH.

In March 2010, the IDH Board, in which companies, trade unions and civil society organisations are represented, took the decision to launch the electronics programme. The programme is still in its design phase. Start of the implementation phase of this programme was scheduled for the beginning of 2011, but is likely to be pushed back.

Parties involved so far are, Philips, Hewlett Packard (HP) and Dell on the side of the companies, and Dutch trade union FNV, the GoodElectronics Network, and the Amsterdam-based Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations SOMO as civil society organisations. FNV, GoodElectronics and SOMO are closely working together. IDH is coordinating the process. For Philips it is Jan Willem Scheijgrond (Senior Director Environment, Health & Safety of the Philips Corporate Sustainability Office) and Boukje Theeuwes (Supplier Sustainability, Purchasing Philips Lighting). HP is represented by Karl Daumuller (Program Manager & SC SER Lead Auditor, Global Procurement Services). For Dell, Jannie Bailey (Senior Program Manager Supply Chain Social and Environmental Responsibility World Wide Procurement) is involved. Companies and organisations jointly form the current working group.

It has not yet been defined how the electronics programme will look like. IDH has a very ambitious outlook, and hopes to contribute to improving the working conditions of 500,000 workers in the global electronic sector over a period of four years. The focus is on precarious work, job security, working relations, occupational health and safety, as well as on environmental  issues. The programme’s ambition is to move ‘beyond auditing’ and beyond current corporate practices in dealing with found non-compliances. Good practices of frontrunner companies as well as civil society initiatives will be taken as point of reference. The programme expects to engage and influence suppliers in different parts of the supply chain (multiple tiers). Click here to read more on the IDH electronics programme on the IDH website. The programme will in the fist place be looking at China. A second country may be Brasil, but this has not yet been decided.

The main reason for GoodElectronics to have joined the IDH electronics work group is that we see promising opportunities to work with these important brand companies and their suppliers in addressing labour rights violations and in improving labour conditions, as well as in dealing with environmental issues. As the stated focus of the programme is to move ‘beyond auditing’ GoodElectronics, together with FNV and SOMO, is aiming at including workers training, forms of workers representation, and setting up credible negotiation and grievance mechanisms. So far, IDH and the involved companies have shown genuine commitment to elaborate a progressive programme, and a willingness to learn from (multi stakeholder) experiences in other manufacturing sectors.

Obviously, there are also worries if this is really going to work. In its outlook IDH may seem more pro-business than genuinely multi stakeholder, for example. Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are crucial for GoodElectronics, FNV and SOMO. The involved companies shy back from publicly accepting this focus, partly for fear of alienating their suppliers. On the other hand, the brands show sufficient enthusiasm to push a progressive agenda with their suppliers.

Philips, HP and Dell are currently identifying suppliers in the Pearl River Delta in China that are interested to participate in the programme. FNV, GoodElectronics and SOMO are in the process of making contact with organisations in Hong Kong and mainland China that are interested to get involved in the programme, by sharing their knowledge on labour issues and conditions in the Chinese electronics industry, as well as by getting involved in the further design and implementation of the programme.