Make ICT Fair
How can the EU Make ICT Fair?
The information and recommendations below are an updated summary of the EU policy recommendations of the EU-funded Make ICT Fair project (2018-2021).
What are the problems with ICT supply chains?
The production of ICT has a huge impact on the environment, climate change, human rights and working conditions along global supply chains in the Global South.
Mining of minerals, used in ICT equipment, are associated with risks and impacts concerning human rights abuse, socio-ecological conflicts and violations of labour, social and environmental rights. Moreover, ICT devices contain so-called conflict minerals (tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold), the extraction of which risks contributing to armed conflict and severe human rights abuse.
Workers in ICT manufacturing are at risk of being unknowingly exposed to hazardous chemicals that damage their health, as well as excessive overtime and wages that fail to satisfy their basic needs. They are often denied fundamental labour rights, as defined by the ILO and national labour legislation. The risk of child labour, discrimination, denied freedom of association and collective bargaining as well as forced labour and debt bondage is high in electronics supply chains.
Coal-powered manufacturing contributes to rising global temperatures and the devastating impacts of climate change. Almost four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the ICT sector.
Transparency and traceability in the ICT supply chain is low, making it difficult to hold companies accountable for their actions along the ICT supply chains, which may lead to corporate impunity and infringements of regulations.
The short life span of ICT devices exacerbates the toll these devices take on the planet’s finite resources and the life of workers along the whole supply chain. According to the World Economic Forum, e-waste is now the world’s fastest-growing waste stream, reaching 48.5 million tonnes in 2018. Much of it ends up (or is dumped) in developing countries. Hence, the life-cycle costs of production of new computers and technology equipment are not reflected in the retail prices of these products.
Multilateral Development Banks, such as the European Investment Bank (“the EU bank”) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), still don’t have proper tools nor the sufficient will to prevent their project promoters from causing significant and sometimes irreversible environmental damage and greatly impact human health, settlements and livelihoods.
WHAT CAN THE EU DO?
1. Adopt rules on Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence
The European Commission has announced it will propose a legislative proposal on Sustainable Corporate Governance, including Human Rights and Environment Due Diligence, by fall 2021, which is very much welcome.
In parallel, the United Nations are currently negotiating a possible Binding Treaty on
Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with respect to human rights. The European Parliament had shown support to this process, while the EU Member States have been blocking it.
EU policy recommendations
The future rules on Sustainable Corporate Governance, including Human Rights and Environment Due Diligence should, inter alia, cover the entire value chain (not only tier 1) to protect workers and environment up to the beginning of the value chain, where violations are often most pronounced. The obligation should apply to all companies either based in the EU or placing products and services on the EU market. To ensure that the HREDD has a positive impact on all rightsholders, it should requite active consultation of rightsholders, such as workers or artisanal miners at every step of the process. Finally, there should be genuine access to remedy for those potentially harmed by companies’ activities, including through civil and administrative judicial proceedings.
In parallel, we call on the EU to also support the process towards a United Nations Binding Treaty on “Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with respect to human rights”.
2. Ensure Multilateral Development Banks implement Human Rights and Environment Due Diligence
Multilateral Development Banks (MDB), in particular the European Investment Bank (“The EU bank”) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) can also be instrumental in promoting and implementing best practice in public procurement standards from leading EU countries. Through their investments and policy dialogue, MDBs can help the improvement of standards in the new EU member states as well as non-EU countries. Upgrading their own policies in this direction can ensure improved environmental and social standards and better implementation of projects. While supporting the projects being a part of the ICT supply chain (and all others), these financial institutions have to seriously prioritise the protection and promotion of human rights.
The existing social safeguards neither sufficiently prevent intimidation, threats and forced evictions nor protect the existence and wellbeing of the most vulnerable local communities, especially in the mining areas.
EU policy recommendations
Ensure stronger oversight over Development Banks such as the European Bank for Reconstructions and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank
(EIB) and require a Human Rights Due Diligence before providing financial loans to projects that may cause human rights violations or environmental degradation, especially in the Global South. The Banks need to adopt overall human rights strategies and reinforce their due diligence at project level via human rights due diligence and Human Rights Impact Assessments to ensure the projects they support respect the core values of the EU external action and do not directly or indirectly contribute to human rights violations.
3. Upgrade its public procurement policies
Following the “practice what you preach” principle, it is essential that the European Parliament leads by example by upgrading their own internal procurement policies addressing strategic, sustainable and socially responsible public procurement approaches.
EU policy recommendations
Each EU Institution should put in place a social and environmental public procurement policy and action plan for ICT procurement that involves social responsibility considerations along the supply chain as well as approaches to reuse, repair, refurbish and recycle ICT equipment (circular procurement).
Each EU Institution should join an independent Monitoring Organisation to advance socially responsible public procurement of computers and technology equipment, such as Electronics Watch, as other public authorities in Europe have done already.
4. Ensure that EU policies on circular electronics and ICT lead to fairer value chains
In its Circular Economy Action Plan, the European Commission (the Commission) chose electronics and ICT as one of the key value chains requiring ‘urgent, comprehensive and coordinated actions’. Accordingly, the Commission is planning to present a Circular Electronics Initiative (CEI) which will be in line with the upcoming Sustainable Product Policy Initiative in which special attention will be given to electronics and ICT. The Sustainable Product Policy Initiative will also include legislative proposals for the Eco-design Directive and the Commission is planning to submit a proposal towards the end of 2021.
These developments are important and urgently needed, however, it is also essential that they include social impacts of the electronics and ICT value chains. If current adverse impacts of the linear value chains and business models remain unaddressed, circular value chains will end up perpetuating grave human rights abuses currently present.
EU policy recommendations
It is necessary that the Commission includes social as well as environmental requirements along the value chains, from production to end of life, as already considered in the Circular Economy Action Plan, in all resulting legislative and non-legislative proposals.
5. Inclusion of social aspects in the Sustainable Products Initiative
The European Commission is currently consulting on a legislative proposal on Sustainable Product Initiative the proposal for which is planned for the fourth quarter of 2021.
The initiative will 1) widen the scope of Ecodesign Directive beyond energy related products, and 2) propose complementary legislative proposals to regulate sustainability related aspects in a wide range of products, with electronics, ICT, textiles and furniture among priority products which will be addressed first.
EU policy recommendations
The initiative aims to support the development of systems supporting more sustainable products being placed on the EU market. The initiative should address sustainability in a holistic way, covering environmental, social and economic sustainability.
As part of the extended Ecodesign requirements, the SPI should look at design requirements which would lead to a more environmentally as well as socially sustainable production processes. One important point is to require producers /importers to ensure information on chemicals used during the production process of a product (in addition to requiring this information for the content of the product). Furthermore, the EC should ban or strictly limit the use of substances which have negative impacts on the health of farmers, workers or artisans in the production process, even when the hazardous chemicals will not enter into the EU. The EC should also set rules so that the sorting and recycling process does not require or result in exposing workers to hazardous chemicals. (reference) Finally, the information on sourcing and production locations of at least all the tier 1 actors should be required, while encouraging the use of systems to disclose information on production locations beyond Tier 1.
Any parts of the initiative requiring information requirements, such as the planned digital product passport should also require social information requirements:
- sourcing and production locations of at least all the tier 1 actors should be required, while encouraging
- the use of systems to disclose information on production locations beyond Tier 1.
- presence of collective bargaining agreements at production locations
- Information on chemicals used as part of the manufacturing process
- Toxicity of the chemicals used as part of the manufacturing process
- Information of wage levels at production locations together with an assessment of living wages and incomes at those locations
We consider the envisaged digital product passport as an opportunity to disclose this information. To ensure reliability of the information, the digital product passport or any other information source under the SPI, should be publicly available and easily accessible and open for scrutiny to civil society organisations. The information should be reported or verified by worker or producer representatives.