Smartphones: Would you pay $9 more to ensure better working conditions? Photo: Glenn Hunt
Would you pay $9 more for your smartphone if it guaranteed better working conditions for the person who made it?
An investigation into the electronics industry has revealed 97per cent of companies fail to pay factory workers enough to cover their basic needs and only one in five knew where their raw materials came from.
The findings have renewed concerns about workers in developing countries being exploited in the production of mobile phones, tablets and televisions.
The Electronics Industry Trends report, released on Wednesday by Baptist World Aid, examined 39 companies’ efforts to stamp out oppressive conditions in their supply chains.
Researchers relied on publicly available information and feedback from the companies, of which about half took part, to rank them on policies, transparency and worker rights.
The highest grade, B+, was given to tech giants Nokia, Apple, Microsoft and LG. Dick Smith Electronics and Kogan were graded a D, Palsonic and Hisense an F.
The report said some larger companies received a higher mark because they had addressed exploitation issues, not necessarily because their supply chains were free of abuse.
Nokia was found to be the only company that proved it paid manufacturing workers above the minimum wage. However, none of the companies audited paid above minimum wages to supply-chain workers in smelting and mining operations.
Co-author Gershon Nimbalker said minimum wages in manufacturing countries such as China, India and South Korea often failed to cover basic living costs, which was "critical in empowering individuals and communities to overcome poverty".
Mr Nimbalker said most of the 21 million victims of forced labour worldwide worked for companies supplying goods to countries such as Australia.
He said modelling showed that increasing workers’ wages to meet their basic needs would add $2 to $9 to the retail cost of a smartphone.
The report also found that 18 per cent of tech companies had only partial knowledge of where their raw materials were sourced, which Mr Nimbalker said increased the likelihood of slavery and child labour.
Australian Retailers Association chief executive Russell Zimmerman said most local retailers tried to do the "right thing", but struggled to get complete information about supply chains.
The report card
B+ Nokia, Apple, LG, Microsoft
B Panasonic, Samsung
C+ Woolworths Australia, Philips
D+ Fujitsu, Amazon Kindle, Dick Smith Electronics, Nintendo
D- Canon, Kogan
F Hisense, Palsonic
Source: Electronics Industry Trends Report