Photo: iPhonedigital_Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

The GoodElectronics Network (GE), the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO), and the Business, Human Rights Environment Research Group of Greenwich University (BHRE) released a report that proposes a new approach to the urgent need for disclosure and transparency in the global electronics industry. “Beyond corporate transparency. The right to know in the electronics industry”, leaves behind the stale concept of voluntary corporate disclosure, and instead makes the strong argument for a rights-based systematic, coherent and mandatory approach to corporate transparency.

Photo: iPhonedigital_Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

The fundamental rights of workers in the global electronics industry are violated on a massive scale. Millions of workers are working under precarious and toxic conditions, resulting in poor livelihoods, and high rates of despair, injury and even death. Corporate secrecy and lack of transparency of supply chains plays a key role in perpetuating these harms. Workers in the global electronics production network, their families and communities are denied access to vital information and not allowed to play a role in decision-making processes with impact their working lives and conditions. Barriers to such information are based on corporate demands of confidentiality that fail to properly take into account the rights of workers. Whilst electronics companies nowadays boast of their commitment to transparency, we found it is all talk and no action.

Workers, their families, and community members that are affected or potentially affected by the electronics industry are the primary ‘rights-holders’ of the right to know, or, in other words, the right to access information. Companies are responsible for disclosing all information that may impact on, or is necessary to realise workers’ rights, and information that affects workers’ lives and livelihoods to primary rights-holders and to and to other related parties such as worker representatives and representative organisations. States have the obligation to ensure companies do so and that workers can access and engage meaningfully with such information. This makes states and business enterprises ‘duty bearers’.

In this report, GE, BHRE and SOMO maintain that the right to information is both a right in itself and a precondition for the realisation of other rights.

Disclosed information should include facts and figures on trading and purchasing practices; on buyer-supplier relations; on the position of a company in the value chain; on production facilities, including work place conditions and labour force; on corporate human rights due diligence policies and practices, including the mapping of risks and the findings and outcomes thereof; and on materials, components and end-products. The report presents a break-down and detailed list of the information that should ideally be disclosed and communicated, grouped in seven data sets, each with a varying number of data points.

The approach to transparency presented in this report is soundly grounded in two frameworks that are rapidly developing in international and national law and practice: the right to information, and corporate human rights due diligence and non-financial disclosure. Rights-based transparency is implicit within businesses’ responsibility to communicate and engage with rights-holders and other relevant parties and explicitly within states’ obligations to protect human rights.

We hope that the work this report does in identifying transparency why, for whom, of what and how, contributes to advance the clarification and full realisation of the right to know and the duty to inform and exercise due diligence to protect the rights of workers, their families and communities.