We're all dimly aware that the smartphones, fitness trackers, tablets and consoles we spend hundreds of dollars on are assembled by workers where people are very poorly paid. A new analysis by Baptist World Aid Australia highlights just how poorly: of the 39 companies examined, only one was paying a wage high enough to ensure workers could meet their basic needs.
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The charitable organisation commissioned an investigation into "Exploitation and Slavery in Electronics", examining manufacturer track records on issues including paying a living wage; allowing collective bargaining; policies on forced labour, child labour and the use of underpaid subcontractors; monitoring the behaviour of contracted suppliers; and tracking the supply chain to avoid dubious components such as materials reclaimed from unsafe dumps by child workers.
Performance, unsurprisingly, varied widely. But one area where no-one distinguished themselves was in paying a living wage — one that covers meeting very basic essential needs. Only Nokia was found to meet that criteria, guaranteeing that workers would earn above the local minimum wage.
Note that the minimum wage is often below the actual living wage. As the report says: "the legal minimum wage in many developing countries is not sufficient for a worker and their dependents to meet their basic living needs. Legal minimum wages may keep workers and their families in poverty or force them into working excessive overtime to make ends meet."
The report also gave an overall letter grade to each company, combining all the criteria examined. No company scored an A, but seven (Acer, Apple, LG Electronics, Microsoft, Motorola Mobility, Samsung and Toshiba) scored a B. Here's the full set of overall grades (where A is the best, F is the worst):
|Amazon Kindle||D||Hisense||F||Motorola Mobility||B||SanDisk||C-|
|Dick Smith Electronics||D||Kogan||D-||Palsonic||F||Toshiba||B-|
Lots of work to be done then. How could this be fixed? A slight rise in the price we pay for goods passed on to those workers could see dramatic increases in wages — bear in mind these people are often being paid less than a dollar per hour. Hit the link for the organisation's guide to how to purchase electronics ethically.