The electronics industry has long been synonymous with poor working conditions, abuses of workers rights, and sweatshops. In the past few years scandals such as Foxconn's infamous 'suicide nets' and Leukaemia caused by dangerous chemicals in the manufacturing process have become common place.
Despite these high profile cases little seems to have changed in the electronics industry. In fact, you might be forgiven for thinking that these horrors are an inescapable aspect of the process which ensures that we have the latest iPads, smartphones, and consoles. However this is not the case.
All of this raises the question, what can be done to bring change to the electronics industry, to ensure that rights are respected and people are subject to decent working conditions. Simply deciding to take your business elsewhere generally isn't an option; we are often locked into using certain technologies, and in any case, with the exception of the 'Fairphone', would seem that there really is very little difference between manufacturers in terms of the conditions that their workers face.
It is for this reason that for the past couple of years a coalition of European NGOs, with People & Planet leading in the UK, have been working on a new model to transform the industry.
A total of 45 organisations from 10 countries across Europe each, with their own expertise in the electronics industry and the protection of human rights in supply chains, have come together to create a new organisation which aims to monitor the electronics manufacturing process to ensure that essential rights are respected.
This new organisation, called Electronics Watch, brings a new approach to the table. Its focus on utilising the the buying power of the European public sector aims to encourage the electronics industry to create significant improvements for workers through independent and transparent reforms and monitoring.
The European public sector spends tens of billions of Euros every year on IT and Electronic equipment. Vast sums of this money go to companies with appalling track records with regards to workers' rights. The contracts that hospitals, councils, universities, and schools have with electronics manufacturers provide a previously untapped power to try and change this situation. Electronics Watch will attempt to use this collective purchasing power to create significant reforms in the factories, and improve practices.
It is time that we stopped accepting the gross violations of workers' rights in the electronics industry as a necessary evil in the production of the technologies which we use on daily basis and start trying to find a way to generate structural improvement for the people who produce these goods. The Electronics Watch initiative is an attempt to try and change this.
Matt Franklin is a member of People & Planet, the largest student network in Britain campaigning to end world poverty, defend human rights and protect the environment. peopleandplanet.org.
To read Matt's condemnation of Dell, click here.