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Tech sector still loves its slaves: study

Fewer than half of kit-makers can trace their supply chain properly

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

They avoid paying tax at the top, and avoid paying workers at the bottom: a new study into the supply practises of the tech sector finds most participants don't know where their materials come from and don't really seem to care.

That's what emerges from a Baptist World Aid report that scored 39 kit suppliers – covering all manner of products, from smartphones to servers, satnavs to switches, thumb-drives to games – on the basis of their supply chains' worker practises and exploitation of conflict minerals.

Of all the companies examined in the study, only Nokia cared enough about its lofty PR statements about fair trade to actually collect the data needed to verify that it pays workers a decent wage in countries like India and China.

Baptist World Aid worked with US anti-slavery organisation Not for Sale to produce the report, which found that the rest of the industry couldn't demonstrate adequate wages in their supply chain.

Only 18 per cent of companies could manage even partial visibility through their supply chain to the sources of their raw materials, the study claims. While just over one-third of tech companies acknowledged their workers' rights to collective bargaining, only one company – Nokia again – had gone so far as to actually put collective bargaining agreements in place.

Surprisingly, the low supply chain visibility often continued all the way to the end of the chain, since only 49 per cent of vendors identified “all of their suppliers at the final stage of production” (something the report's authors commend, but which The Register finds almost incomprehensible in an industry that touts its “paddock-to-plate” level of supply chain management).

The full version of the report notes that 59 per cent of the 39 tech vendors assessed have a project to start tracing the suppliers of their source minerals.

Even though Nokia also guarantees its workers will be paid above the local minimum wage, the Finns could not score better than a B+ in the final assessment; the report gave Apple, Samsung and Motorola scores of B+, B and B- respectively, while Australian brand Kogan landed a D-.

Chinese vendors performed poorly, with HTC, Huawei and Lenovo among the producers that scored D or below, but they're hardly alone: Fujitsu, Amazon, Nintendo and Oracle were also in the bottom half of the scores.

Baptist World Aid says giving workers a living wage in the factory farms that assemble our gadgets has an impact of only about 1.5 per cent on the final price of the product.

The full report is available here. ®

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