Most, if not all, electronics companies in Australia have failed to fully investigate whether raw materials used in their products were obtained using slave labour or some other form of exploitation, a new report shows.
A Baptist World Aid (BWA) analysis of 56 electronics companies found while 57 per cent have traced their supply chains in the final manufacturing stage, only 11 per cent have done so for parts manufacturing, which can include smelting and refining.
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Why your electronics aren't ethical
Nearly all electronics companies in Australia are failing to fully trace their raw materials to ensure against slavery and exploitation in their supply chains, according to Baptist World Aid's Electronics Industry Trends report.
None of the companies have completely traced their raw materials, which could be tin from Indonesia or cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both linked with child labour in dangerous mines.
"If companies don't know or don't care then they cannot ensure that workers are not being exploited," said Gershon Nimbalker from Baptist World Aid Australia.
"Some of the worst labour rights abuses occur all the way back at mineral extractions. We tend to find the deeper in a supply chain you go, the more out of sight the work becomes and the more vulnerable the workers are to exploitation."
For its second report into the electronics industry, the charity group surveyed 13 more companies and graded them from A to F on the strength of their practices and policies to mitigate the risk of forced labour, child labour and exploitation.
Not one received an A, and the median was C-. Many of the companies which failed to engage and withheld information received a D or an F. These included appliance brands Dyson, Whirlpool and Kogan.
In response to consumer demand, the group included Capital Brands, maker of the Nutribullet blender, and Vorwerk, owner of all-in-one kitchen appliance Thermomix, for the first time. Both failed to be transparent and were given a D-.
"We were disappointed that neither chose to engage in the research process to demonstrate the work they're doing. Public transparency is important because it shows a company's willingness to be held accountable to both workers and consumers," Mr Nimbalker said.
The worst offenders, slapped with an F, were Hisense, Palsonic and Polaroid.
On a positive note, 61 per cent actively contributed to the research, up from 54 per cent for the first report in 2014. Apple, Dell, Electrolux, Microsoft and Panasonic were among 24 companies which nabbed a B.
The researchers praised Garmin, SanDisk, Dick Smith, Asus and Blackberry for showing the most improvement.
Not one company has actively implemented a living wage throughout its supply chain, meaning workers were still unable to afford basic expenses such as food, water, shelter and electricity.
But multinational Garmin and Australia's Dick Smith, now in receivership, were able to provide evidence they were taking solid steps to pay overseas workers above the minimum wage.
A Capital Brands spokesman, based in the United States, said it was unfair the researchers issued low grades to businesses which chose to opt out of the survey. It said it was unfamiliar with the organisation which sought non-public information from third parties.
"BWA should denote an "N/R" or non-responsive rather than suggesting that it has a factual basis for issuing a non-passing grade to businesses that simply choose not to participate in its survey," the spokesman said.
Vorwerk also said it chose not to participate in the survey, and the fact it received a D showed the research "lacked validity".
"Thermomix in Australia is committed to fair work practices and improving the health and wellbeing of Australians through education, charitable partnerships and the empowerment of communities."
A Canon spokeswoman said it was surprised to receive a D considering the company, headquartered in Japan, prided itself on its strong record of social responsibility.
"Locally, Canon Oceania publishes a Sustainability Report which outlines our local policies and performance. Consumers are very welcome to contact email@example.com if there are any questions about our activities in Australia or New Zealand," she said.
Local online retailer Kogan declined to comment but pointed to its ethical sourcing policies, which said it was committed to upholding human rights, fair working conditions and environmental protection.
Nick Ray, co-founder of the Ethical Consumer Guide, urged shoppers to consider the lives and rights of the workers deep in the supply chain who, because they were hidden, were often forgotten.
"It may not be relevant to us in the first world, if we choose it to be. But it is relevant to us as a global community because there are people at the other end of the process and they're often working in quite atrocious conditions and it is connected to the things we consume in a daily way," he said.
"For our own sake, we should be encouraging greater responsibility and providing feedback to companies."
In January, Amnesty International and Africa Resources Watch claimed children as young as seven were mining cobalt in the DRC that ended up in electronics manufactured by 16 brands, including Apple, Samsung and Sony.
"It is a major paradox of the digital era that some of the world's richest, most innovative companies are able to market incredibly sophisticated devices without being required to show where they source raw materials for their components," said Emmanuel Umpula from Africa Resources Watch.
"The abuses in mines remain out of sight and out of mind because in today's global marketplace consumers have no idea about the conditions at the mine, factory, and assembly line."