Make ICT Fair
The Make ICT Fair project began in November of 2017, when a consortium of 11 European organizations joined forces with the ultimate goal of improving the lives and livelihoods of people affected by ICT supply chains. Make ICT Fair was an European funded project (subsidized by the DEAR-programme) that ended in January 2021.
Why do we need to Make ICT Fair?
Because most ICT isn’t fair. ICT refers to electronic products that we use on a daily basis, such as laptops and smartphones. The production process of these devices is marked by human right violations and ecological disasters.
First of all, electronics contain a high amount of metals. Smartphones for example contain more than 40 different metals. These metals need to be extracted from the earth. This mainly occurs through large-scale mining projects, creating enormous ecological impacts such as; the dehydration of lakes, rivers and the earth, the contamination of soil and water with heavy metals and toxic substances, deforestation and biodiversity loss. Again, this creates several social impacts such as (forced) migration, loss of income due to degradation of agricultural land, diseases due to contamination of drinking water, criminalization of protest and human rights defenders, conflicts and corruption. Next to this, the ICT production phase also has a dark side. In many ICT factories, which are located mainly in Asia and Eastern Europe, labour conditions are far from ideal. ICT factory workers are required to work excessive hours for low wages in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. And, if that isn’t enough, the amount of e-waste discarded by the global population is only increasing annually, with severe social and ecological consequences. This is the result of the linear production model: our electronics are not designed to be easily repairable or recyclable.
There are many reasons why working towards a fairer ICT production and consumption model is not simple. Firstly, the ICT supply chain is not transparent and is very fragmented. Firstly, the ICT supply chain is not transparent and is very fragmented. It is easy for companies to avoid taking responsibility for other stages of the supply chain. The entire production and consumption model needs to be scrutinized and redesigned.
In this way it’s quite easy for companies to not take their responsibility for what happens in a previous stage of the supply chain. The whole production and consumption model is in need of scrutinization and redesigning.
The whole supply chain is in desperate need of a change. We need to Make ICT Fair.
Here you can read more about the issues within the ICT supply chain.
How did we Make ICT Fairer?
The Make ICT Fair consortium utilised four different strategies to make ICT Fair:
- Raising awareness in Europe on the issues within the ICT Supply chain
First of all, with the Make ICT Fair project we wanted to meet the urgent need to increase awareness of European citizens as to how our electronics are produced, drawing attention to the labour conditions and environmental impacts.
This is a very important first step, because often people aren’t aware of the story of their phones before they purchase them in the store. Within the Make ICT Fair project, the consortium increased awareness of European citizens on the impact of our ICT by; creatingsocial media campaigns and sharing articles, creating educational material, training activists and organizing public actions, conferences, workshops, Speaker Tours, guest lectures, documentary screenings and several other educational events.
Raising awareness in numbers:
- We reached over 150 million European citizens through press and media work and social media campaigns, linking their own consumption to the challenges and negative impacts associated with global ICT supply chains (mining and manufacturing) and the interdependencies of the EU and the Global South.
- Project partners actively engaged 350,000 citizens with training sessions, street actions, congresses, speaker tours and seminars. These activities were successful in building awareness, skills, and knowledge among trained activists and the general public, supporting them in active citizenship from a local to a national level to create change in ICT supply chains.
- Large-scale events designed to reach a broader audience were organising in collaboration with multiple partners, including;
- SETEM organized three sessions of the Mobile Social Congress, with input and speakers from other Make ICT Fair partners. The main goals of the congress were to reflect on the current production and consumption ICT model that generates serious human rights violations and environmental consequences, and the potential of existing ethical consumption alternatives – issues that were not discussed at the annual Mobile World Congress that took place simultaneously in Barcelona.
- Three Academic Speaker Tours were set up by CATAPA. Three speakers from the Global South travelled to Europe to give guest lectures in universities and ran several other events about mining issues in their countries. They traveled through Belgium, but also told their story during activities organised by Bankwatch in Bulgaria, by Le Monde Diplomatique in Poland and by TSA in Hungary.
People & Planet coordinated Power Shift three years in a row – a multiple day training series for young people focused on strengthening their activist and campaigning skills. Activists from SETEM, TSA, CATAPA, Bankwatch and Le Monde Diplomatique participated in these training sessions.
- Promoting fair public procurement as a tool for positive change
Government, regional authorities and universities are large-scale consumers of electronics products such as computers, laptops and tablets. Within the EU, one out of five laptops is bought by the public sector. Consequently, as a major consumer, the public sector as a whole has considerable leverage. If the entirety of the public sector were to join forces, it could utilise this leverage to force the industry to implement structural improvements and higher standards.
Therefore, Make ICT Fair targeted public sector buyers, encouraging them to integrate sustainability criteria within their ICT product procurement tenders. At the same time, monitoring systems were strengthened across the supply chain.
Promoting fair public procurement in numbers:
- During the project 331 institutions were encouraged by project partners to affiliate themselves with Electronics Watch and make work of fairer public procurement policies.
- Expert roundtables, conferences, seminars, and webinars reached 1,700 public procurers.
- Training sessions were conducted to strengthen monitoring partners in manufacturing and mining regions. These trainings were organised by Electronics Watch and CATAPA and focused on the worker-driven monitoring methodology for monitoring partners in the mining and the manufacturing sector.
- ICLEI and Electronics Watch developed tender models, provided advice, guidance and expert briefing to public procurers. Six pilot tenders and five published case studies inspired local administrations and Procura+ Interest Group participants to make work of their own procurement.
- A database was set up to make the connection between 60 brands, 176 factories and 56 procurers.
- Performing research to detect issues within the ICT supply chain and increase transparency
The ICT supply chain is very complex and untransparent. That’s why we performed research on the ICT supply chain to detect certain issues such as human rights violations and to gain more insight into the complex metal and component tiers.
This is a selection of the research produced within the framework of the Make ICT Fair project:
- Copper with a cost – A report produced by Swedwatch on the human rights and environmental risks in the mineral supply chains of ICT, focusing on a case study from Zambia
- Forced labour behind your screen – Research performed by Danwatch on behalf of SETEM on the bad working situations of migrant ICT factories in Malaysia.
- Linking the Bolivian minerals to the European Industry – research carried out by CATAPA that tracks the supply chain of the metal Indium (important for touchscreens in smartphones), from Bolivian cooperative mines to the European Industry.
You can find an overview of all the research carried out within the Make ICT Fair project on this page of the University of Edinburgh. There you can also find a collection of articles produced by the Make ICT Far project titled ‘Human rights risks in the ICT supply chain’.
- Advocating for the integration of fairness and sustainability aspects in legislation related to ICT
Legislation concerning the ICT supply chain is developed at both the European and national level. Make ICT Fair partners analyzed and closely monitored such legislation to push for the integration of sustainability aspects. The EU’s multilateral development banks’ investments were closely monitored and lobbied to adhere to best practices.
More specifically, the Make ICT Fair consortium made policy recommendations regarding these subjects;
- Adopting rules on Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence
- Ensure Multilateral Development Banks implement Human Rights and Environment Due Diligence
- Push for the EU to upgrade its public procurement policies
- Ensure that EU policies regarding circular electronics and ICT lead to fairer value chains
- Inclusion of social aspects in the Sustainable Products Initiative
To work on the implementation of these recommendations, Make ICT Fair partners held frequent meetings with EU decision makers, organizing lobby events in the European Parliament (such as the European Parliament ‘Make ICT Fair’ Breakfast with the goal of raising awareness of human rights violations within ICT supply chains) and formed the Make ICT Fair Friends group out of existing decision makers.
For this, the consortium was supported by consultant Fair Trade Advocacy Office (FTAO).
Here you can read more about EU policy recommendations Make ICT Fair partners were and are continuing to work on.
Some Make ICT Fair partners also pressured their national governments to raise ICT supply chain issues and improve legislation. For example, TSA launched a campaign and a petition to push for legislation in Hungary that would extend the obligatory guarantee period for ICT products.
To be continued…
During the three years of the Make ICT Fair project, eleven partners took steps towards a fairer ICT supply chain. However, lots of work must still be done. From 2021 onwards the consortium will continue to work together on different levels to Make ICT Fair;
- Dialogue and collaboration between partners will continue . Supported by a contracted consultant, the consortium will continue to meet regularly and will keep on advocating for fairer policies by targeting EU level policy makers.
- Make ICT Fair partners will continue to focus on the topic of ICT individually within their organizations. For some partners, the impact of ICT will continue to play a significant role in their educational and awareness-raising offer. Others will continue to perform lobby activities or carry out research regarding the subject. Several organizations also joined forces for smaller projects and will continue to focus on their specific accomplishments.
- The Make ICT Fair consortium will be on the lookout for a follow-up project to continue the work outlined above.