Nokia best of a bad lot in tech brand workers' rights report

Nokia was the only company among 39 leading technology brands able to prove it was paying its manufacturing workers a living wage above the official minimum, according to a new report by Baptist World Aid Australia.
Written by Leon Spencer, Contributor

Only one technology company, Nokia, among 39 leading tech brands was able to prove that it paid its manufacturing workers a "living wage", according to a report by international aid and development organisation, Baptist World Aid Australia.

The organisation's Electronics Industry Trends report analysis found that 97 percent of the technology companies analysed could not confirm they were paying workers sufficient wages to meet their basic needs in countries like India and China — taking into account the entire supply chain from mineral extraction through to component and final product manufacturing.

While Nokia was the overall best performer in the analysis, Asus, Lenovo, and Canon were among the poorest scoring international technology brands ranked in the report.

"Of the 39 companies analysed, only Nokia was able to provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that workers were receiving amounts above the legal minimum," the report said. "It is worth noting that both Microsoft and Samsung also claim to pay above minimum wage, however at the time of publishing we had not received sufficient documentary evidence to verify this."

Nokia was the overall best performer, with a B+ grade and a demonstration that it was paying workers a living wage. Tech giants Apple, Samsung, and Motorola scored a B+, B, and B- respectively, while Australian brand, Kogan, received a D-, along with Huawei, Canon, and Lenovo. Palsonic received an F.

Despite Apple's bad rep over the years, with much stemming from troubles at one of its major Chinese suppliers, Foxconn, the company was among the highest-ranking brands in the report.

"Apple's inclusion in the top tier may come as a surprise given the public attention it has received for poor working conditions and child labour at Chinese suppliers like Foxconn and Pegatron. In fact, Apple itself reported finding eight facilities using child labour in 2014," said the report.

The analysis also found that only 18 percent of the surveyed brands had even a partial knowledge of where their raw materials were sourced, and 34 percent had a code of conduct that included workers' rights to collective bargaining.

"Nokia was the only company able to sufficiently identify factories where collective bargaining arrangements existed," the report said.

For Baptist World Aid advocacy manager, Gershon Nimbalker, the primary concern covered in the report was that of minimum wage rate, which in many countries does not cover a family's basic necessities.

The report describes a living wage as one that is high enough to ensure workers can meet basic needs such as food, water, and shelter. It is not regarded as an official minimum wage — which varies wildly among countries where manufacturing takes place.

"We know through our work in the field that payment of a 'living wage' is critical in empowering individuals and communities to overcome poverty and unfortunately Australian brands aren't exempt from this finding either," said Nimbalker.

"Workers in developing countries work long hours in often oppressive conditions to make the phones, TVs, and tablets that we enjoy.

"The additional cost to ensure that they are rewarded for their efforts with a wage that is sufficient for them and their families to live is only a few dollars per product. By some estimates, as little as two to nine dollars per smart phone or less than 1.5 percent of the total price," he said.

The research was conducted in conjunction with Baptist World Aid's partner, Not for Sale, a US anti-slavery campaign organisation. It is the second report in the Behind the Barcode series.

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