An investigation into the electronics industry has revealed major brands operating in Australia, including Woolworths and Dick Smith, do not have adequate safeguards to ensure their supply chains are free from child and forced labour.
The two-year investigation by Baptist World Aid Australia also shows that just one of the 39 companies examined could demonstrate workers employed in their supply chains were paid a “living wage” that allowed them to pay for basic needs such as food and shelter.
The companies featured in The Electronics Industry Trends Report, released on Wednesday, include some of the world’s most recognisable brands such as Apple, LG, Microsoft, Dell and Sony, as well as leading Australian brands.
Each of the companies was assessed on management systems in four key areas, including whether they had: a code of conduct aimed at combating child and forced labour; monitoring and training policies to address child labour; supply-chain transparency; and support for workers’ rights.
While almost half of the companies knew almost all of their suppliers at the final stage of production, no company had complete knowledge of where their raw materials were sourced and less than eight of the 39 brands had even partial knowledge.
Advocacy manager with Baptist World Aid, Gershon Nimbalker, said that if a company did not know or care who was producing its products, it would be hard to know whether workers employed in its supply chain were being exploited or even enslaved.
“It’s really critical that these companies do have adequate safeguards in place because if they don’t there is a reasonable probability that they are engaging in slave labour,” Mr Nimbalker told AAP.
The report showed that Woolworths scored well for its code of conduct but failed to demonstrate that it could adequately trace its supply chain back to the raw-material level.
“Woolworths could not provide or did not know, from what they were telling us, where their raw materials were coming from,” Mr Nimbalker said.
Dick Smith Electronics also scored poorly in terms of being able to trace its supply chain, and was given a “D” grading, while Australian consumer electronics company Kogan was given a “D-“.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates there are 21 million people worldwide trapped in conditions that amount to modern slavery, or forced labour, because of low wages and working conditions.
Mr Nimbalker said the majority were estimated by the ILO as being exploited for commercial gain through supply chains or in manufacturing.
The report also found that of the 39 major companies examined, only Nokia guaranteed workers were paid a living wage, or above the local minimum wage.
“If workers are not being paid enough to live off, they’re being exploited … and are almost condemned to cycle of poverty,” Mr Nimbalker said.
Mr Nimbalker has called for the electronics industry to embrace “living wage” policies and ensure they trace their entire supply chain all the way down to the raw materials level, “where some of the worst abuses often occur”.
“We’d also like to see the industry become more transparent about their initiative so consumers can make their ethical purchasing decisions easily.”
“We’re asking (consumers) to be fair by voting with their wallets and choosing the most ethical companies,” he said.