Socially Responsible Public Procurement - Electronics and ICT

Here you find information about generalised risks of human rights breaches in the global supply chains for IT-products.

Risks of human rights breaches

The information technology sector relies heavily on factories in China and other Asian countries to assemble products and manufacture components. There are well-documented labour rights issues in these factories, particularly low pay, forced overtime, the abuse of student labour and the sacking of trade union leaders. Health and safety is an issue as the manufacture of electronics as it requires handling a large number of dangerous chemicals. There are widespread reports of the lack of personal protective gear and insufficient health and safety training. Workers are increasingly being employed on repeated short-term contracts and face extreme job insecurity. There has been considerable media attention on the labour rights conditions in the factories where big brand-name IT products are assembled, and, to a lesser degree, where the components are made. The human rights risks are therefore thought to be slightly lower for assembly than for the components.

A huge array of raw materials, particularly metals, are used in laptops, phones and monitors. They are sourced from mines all around the world, with China leading the list of source countries. Many of the metals come from artisanal or small-scale mines, where labour rights abuses are more common. Severe human rights breaches are documented in many mines including in some cases the use of child labour and forced labour. Mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo are linked with the funding of armed groups and tin mines in Myanmar are linked to the funding of the illegal drugs trade. Many of the mines are linked to severe environmental impacts and to highly dangerous working conditions.

Here you can read the whole report on human rights abuses in global supply chains of IT-products

Specific risk assessments

The table below gives a generalised estimate of the level of risk of human rights abuse in the main tiers of the supply chain of IT-products (raw material extraction; component production and final assembling).  Some products purchased by public procurers in Norway have been selected to exemplify the risk levels. 

Product Assembly Component Raw material
Information technology Medium high risk High risk Very high risk
Mobile phones Medium high risk High risk Very high risk
Laptops Medium high risk High risk Very high risk
Monitors Medium high risk High risk High risk

Guidance for use of SRPP instruments when purchasing IT-products

The level of risk of human rights abuse for the products exemplified reveals that the the level of generalised risk of human rights abuse in the supply chains is medium high to very high in the production of IT-products.The main risks are beyond the 1st tier (final assembly), during component production and raw material extraction. As the risk level is high for several levels of the supply chain this suggest use of socially responsible public procurement (SRPP) instruments to promote human rights during the production process in the supply chain of IT-products. 

Disclaimer: Please notice that the level of risk for human rights abuses could vary for other types of products then the examples above. Furthermore, the risk assessments are based on supply chains for high risk products imported to Norway and the supply chain can look different for products imported to other countries/continents. 

1) Planning the purchase of a high risk product 

When using the SRPP instruments, consider the core principles of public procurement: transparency, equal treatment, open competition, and sound procedural management.

Having an open dialoge – communicating expectations on human rights due diligence - with the supplier market is essential to prepare suppliers on the SRPP requirements.

2) Writing the tender documents for the purchase of high risk products

The length of the contract and the financial value of the transaction should guide decision making towards investing main focus in the contracts with highest financial total value and the longest contract periods.

When having decided which tender documents that should be complemented with SRPP instruments. 

SRPP special contract clauses  should be added to the tender documents.

It could also be considered to use selection criteria  if the level of the market maturity is high (i.e several suppliers have human rights due diligence systems in place at the time of the writing of the tender documents).

It could also be consideres to use special contract clauses for conflict minerals. See more information in DFØ's criteria wizard for sustainable procurements: Select Requirements and Criteria | Kriterieveiviseren (difi.no)

3) Contract follow-up 

Using SRPP special contract clauses implies that the public entity shall follow up the contract. 

SRPP self-assessment guidance could be used as reference for contract follow-up.

Oppdatert: 15. oktober 2021

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