Mobile telephones and mobile phone components are often produced under poor working conditions. Management of the factories often fail to take responsibility, as SOMO research shows.

SOMO researcher Joseph Wilde explains: “Particularly in the Chinese and Thai factories, where components for mobile telephones are made, a number of international labour and health and safety standards are violated. Employee initiatives to improve working conditions are thwarted by the factory owners.”

The research shows that remuneration is often below the minimum wage and that holiday and sick leave are not paid. Employees frequently work between two and five hours of overtime a day, six or seven days a week without proper compensation. Health and safety measures in many factories are inadequate: there is not enough protection from hazardous chemicals nor do workers receive training for working with these toxic substances. This leads to chronic physical complaints from workers. Although, on paper, the companies do have codes of conduct and requirements for suppliers, these are often not followed, especially among sub-tier suppliers, and the major companies do not sufficiently control for compliance.

In a factory in China producing lenses for Motorola phones, researchers encountered nine workers who had been poisoned through unprotected contact with toxic chemicals used in making telephone parts. One of the women was pregnant and had to undergo an abortion because of complications caused by the poisoning. The management of the factory initially refused to provide medical treatment, prolonging the workers’ suffering.

In a factory in Thailand making motors for Nokia phones, employees work with lead solder and have to buy their own protective masks and gloves because the company wants to save on ‘overhead’. Lead solder contains 40% lead and is so dangerous that it has been banned from electronics by several European regulations. Instead of protective equipment, the workers are given milk to filter the toxins from their blood. Several sick workers were hospitalised and diagnosed with dangerous levels of lead poisoning.

In addition to these case studies and others from China, the Philippines, Thailand and India SOMO’s report examines the entire mobile telephone sector and provides an analysis of industry trends, oursourcing and the role of mobile service providers. The study also reviews international regulations, codes and initiatives on corporate social responsibility and the manner in which they influence the mobile phone supply chain.