Problems of the value-added chain
Since a couple of years well investigated studies of different independent organisations report on bad working conditions in the electronic industries.( s. Links). Although seen as a highly technical industry, the basis for the value-added chain of the electronic industries is dominated by manual labour carried out in newly industrialised countries and developing countries. Usually social standards defined by International Organisation(ILO) are not fulfilled. In many cases not even the human rights are observed.Also from other industries e.g. agriculture or textile industry we know about this situation: disproportionate amount of overtime hours, working conditions that endanger the health of the workers, exploitative childwork, destruction of the environment which brings major damage to the residents etc. are common practice in electronics indistry. Especially affected are the production steps which are still base on manual labour to save expenses. These non- skilled workers are cheap and easily exchangeable.
For instance this is the case in the production of raw materials, especially in the minig of ore from which basic metals such as copper, tin, gold, tantalum, etc. are produced. In most cases these raw materials come from developing countries. Exploitation of little childreen happens quite often in the mines. The damage to the human health as well as to the environment are severe. Not to forget the crude oil, from which the plastic is produced. Violations of the human rights are not rare in the production of this "everyday" material.
The assembling of the single electronic parts is mostly done in handwork by non- skilled workers. Here we also find childwork, however the children are older and not as numerous as in the mining. Generally the working conditions in the Assembling do not consider the national and international conventions on working conditions an environmental laws.
We do not know much about the labour conditions in the production of single parts. The production mostly takes place in newly industrialised countries and developing countries. Therefor we can expect the same problems in the production of single parts. Sporadic reports confirm this speculation(e.g. Lenses, Capacitors). Due to the high mechanisation in this field, the number of concerned persons is smaller than in the assembling. Nevertheless the negative impact on the environment due to the immense application of chemicals is severe.
It is difficult for critical consumers to pay attention to social standards in the purchase of electronic products. All companies producing electronics come back to the same suppliers. Therefore there is very little difference in working conditions behind the products of the different brands. The knowlege about the grievance in the supply chain of the electronics industry is not very widespread. Different independent organisations are working on the information and education of the puplic.
Here you find an informative and entertaining report from the chinese (Hongkong) organisation SACOM about an electronic factory in southchina.