New rules for TCO eco-label set standard for IT worker conditions

The "TCO Certified" label, which adorns environmentally preferable IT products, just got harder to get. To carry the label, computer and monitor manufacturers will now have to meet social requirements in their factories.

The new rules, released Monday, mark the first time that the TCO label is addressing social conditions behind product manufacturing. TCO Development, the company behind the label, previously focused only on the products themselves -- the materials inside them, for example, and the amount of energy they used.

Aside from meeting environmental and performance requirements, companies seeking the TCO label will also need to meet social criteria on matters like wages, work day lengths and workers' rights to organize. More than 450 products from some 70 brands currently carry the global, third-party-verified label, which launched in 1992.

The standard calls for:

  • Reduced use of hazardous materials, specifically lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium and cadmium
  • Avoidance of flame retardants that contain bromine and chlorine
  • Energy efficiency, including overall energy consumption when products are in use and energy-saving settings
  • Products that are designed with recycling in mind, accomplished by labeling materials, reducing the number of different plastics used and making parts easy to separate.

TCO Development currently has certification standards for a range of IT office products, including displays, PCs, laptops, tablets, projectors and headsets.

TCO Certified labelThe new social aspects have been added to the TCO Certified label for PCs and displays, and are based on the International Labour Organization's eight core conventions (PDF), as well as labor laws where products are made.

For three months, TCO Development has been working on the specific requirements with the help of IT industry companies and purchasers. But TCO Development put companies on notice that social issues would be more prominent when it released a new TCO Certified program in 2009 that stipulated companies had to show they were working to improve manufacturing conditions.

Manufacturers will also now have to show annual independent audit reports for their facilities. TCO Development expects the first PCs to meet the new certification will be released in May, with certified displays following in September.

Photo courtesy of mark cinotti via Shutterstock.