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Unsafe working environments in IT risking people's health

Unsafe working environments within the IT industry is putting people's health at risk, according to TCO Development, the organisation behind the sustainability certification TCO Certified..

Excessive working hours, forced labour and discrimination are some of the problems that risk workers' health in the IT industry, the company says.

It says achieving a more socially sustainable industry requires long term investments, follow-up and clear consequences that encourage action.

Helena Babelon, head of IT sustainability & continuous improvement at Electrolux Group says much of the manufacturing of IT products is carried out in low-cost, low-wage countries, where workers are often less protected. 

"Supply chains are complex and cover several countries. It is almost impossible for a purchasing organisation to know which factories are used to manufacture specific products. Specialist expertise, resources and access are needed to monitor working conditions," she says.

Babelon says succeeding with sustainable procurement of IT products is a challenge.

"Independent verification of compliance is crucial for a credible result. We've decided to use TCO Certified, it makes the procurement process much more efficient and helps us set criteria in a straightforward way," she says.

"The new report, Impacts and Insights 2019, presents a number of keys to solving sustainability issues in the IT industry. An independent party must audit factories. Effective corrective action plans must be implemented and followed up regularly. To avoid the recurrence of problems, root causes must be found," says Babelon.

"Sustainability work is resource-intensive and there is often a conflict of interest between fair working conditions and goals to minimise cost and time-to-market. A system of consequences is needed to ensure adequate progress."

The report Impacts and Insights 2019 measures the sustainability progress 2015-2018 among brand owners with IT products certified according to TCO Certified. The report covers social responsibility in final assembly factories, hazardous substances and conflict minerals.

Soren Enholm, CEO at TCO Development, says real change demands engagement from the brand owner. 

"We put pressure on the IT industry and can withdraw certificates and restrict factories from manufacturing certified products if the criteria in TCO Certified aren't fulfilled."