CSR Issues in the ICT Hardware Manufacturing Sector

Irene Schipper and Esther de Haan, September 2005

, by Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO)

This report examines the ICT sector, a relatively young sector that often portrays itself
with a clean image of highly skilled jobs and ‘clean rooms’ where professionals work in
a controlled and dust-free environment. Who could imagine that, behind this radiant
representation of young professionals building the industry of the future, we find
poisonous production sites were workers assemble computers during 12-hour workdays,
sometimes for months on end without a single day’s rest?

Since its beginning in the early 1980s, the sector has experienced rapid growth
characterised by strong competition in which the brand name companies are increasingly
concentrating on their core competencies such as R&D, marketing, and branding to
stay ahead. Production and, increasingly, design and supply chain management are
contracted out, resulting in complicated production chains and responsibilities.

In this report SOMO focuses on an industry that has continuously shifted to countries
that are perceived as cheaper, producing predominantly in export zones where labour
rights and environmental issues have no priority. Research done for SOMO in China
and the Philippines shows that computers are produced under endemic overtime, while
a lack of unions and barriers to organising means that the workers cannot negotiate
improvements. Workers are hired on short term contracts for years, blacklisted and
subjected to discriminatory application processes.

The extensive use of toxic chemicals in the production of ICT devices creates huge
problems during the entire lifecycle of ICT products. There are subsequent problems with
occupational health and safety in the production facilities as well as environmental and
community problems in the vicinity of the factories and around the waste disposal sites.

* Read the report CSR Issues in the ICT Hardware Manufacturing Sector (pdf, 98p.)