IT Industry Gets a D+ for Green Policy, Labor Practices

That shift has created much-needed jobs in emerging markets, but it has also led to violations of international labor rights, according to Oekom. The alleged violations include breaches of laws that are intended to proscribe child labor, discrimination and unacceptable working conditions.

A paper on labor conditions in a number of industries, which Oekom published as a companion piece to the IT industry analysis, found:

The manufacturers of mobile phones and computers rank among the worst of the sectors which violate internationally recognized labor rights. Over 42 percent of the companies in each of these sectors which have been rated by Oekom Research have committed this kind of violation.

In contrast, the paper noted, the labor-intensive and often criticized textile industry had a lower incident rate of violations. Here is a chart showing labor violations by industry sector:

Scrutiny of industry practices has promoted several companies to increase efforts to be better corporate citizens. Measures being taken include monitoring of suppliers and manufacturing sites and conducting on-site audits, Oekom said.

Most of the companies reviewed by Oekom have tried to reduce the amount of hazardous substances -- such as toxic flame retardants, PVC and plasticizers -- used in their goods. Some of firms have exceeded requirements in Europe and China, according to Oekom.

However, Oekom analyst Philipp Rühle observed in a statement:

"It will not be possible to resolve overnight the difficulties the large brand manufacturers face in ensuring compliance with their social minimum requirements in the supply chain. It will therefore be some time before interested consumers are able to purchase genuine sustainable IT products."

Photo of electronics store via Charts courtesy of Oekom.