More than 1 billion mobile phones are sold worldwide every year. The Indian electronics industry employs around 4.5 million people, and this figure is expected to rise steeply in future.

Introduction

The electronics industry is characterised by a severe lack of respect for human and labour rights and occupational as well as environmental hazards. Adverse impacts of the electronic industries occur in all three stages right from the mining of minerals used in electronics products, to the manufacturing phase, and the recycling and disposal of electronics waste.
India’s National Policy on Electronics seeks to increase the number of people employed in the electronics sector to 28 million by 2020. However, positive projections about the growth of the sector are in stark contrast with the wages and living conditions of workers employed in the manufacturing units set up by multinational companies across India.

Cividep India’s projects in the electronic sector have focused on telecom equipment manufacturing, a sector which has shown immense growth over the past decade despite some recent setbacks. The mobile phone manufacturing industry has a significant presence in Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Sriperumbudur, Chennai, which houses units of companies such as Samsung, Dell and Flextronics. The closure of the Nokia factory, which was located within the Nokia SEZ and had facilitated the setting up of several other supplier units, has brought to the fore the need to safeguard workers’ rights in this growing sector.

Cividep India has engaged with workers in and around Sriperumpudur since 2007 through several projects in the area. Cividep’s main purpose has been to increase workers’ awareness of labour laws, and to involve various industry stakeholders in the process of evaluating and addressing labour-related challenges in the sector.

Cividep is associated with Electronics Watch, an independent monitoring organisation working for labour rights through socially responsible public purchasing in Europe. The General Secretary of Cividep India, Gopinath Parakuni, is on the Board of Trustees. The Electronics Watch foundation was legally established under Dutch law in March, 2015. By the second half of 2015, Electronics Watch hopes to initiate monitoring activities in the sector.

Working Conditions

There are several violations of labour laws found in the electronics sector including serious impacts on the occupational health and safety of workers.

  • Exposure to toxic material and substances
  • Denial of the right to unionise and collective bargaining
  • Job insecurity due to the use of temporary labour
  • Insufficient wages that barely cover living costs and do not allow workers to save for the future or support family
  • No training in new skills or prospects of promotion

Projects

Good Electronics Network: Information, Capacity Building and Engagement with the Electronic Industry, for Sustainability and Human Rights

Cividep implements activities in India for the GoodElectronics network, such as worker education materials and programmes and trainings on labour rights, capacity building for civil society organisations and meetings with multiple stake-holders of the electronics sector. We have published a workers education series on labour laws, which has been translated and complied into a handbook easily accessible for electronic sector workers in the local language.
Study circles for workers have been organised on a regular basis on topics of interest and trainings have been organised on labour rights- such as freedom of association, social benefits and industrial disputes, occupational health and safety. We have published profiles on electronics companies in relation to their human rights impacts and their CSR policies
Cividep also conducted a legal assistance camp for workers, with the help of the Legal Aid Committee of Sriperumbudur. Legal counselling was provided to 30 workers who participated in the camp.

Electronics Workers Resource Center

Cividep established a Workers’ Resource Centre (WRC) in Sriperumbudur in 2013. The Workers Resource Center (WRC) is supported by The Foundation for Human Rights at Work (FDHT), and serves as a meeting place for workers to participate in study circle that deal with issues of interest to workers such as labour rights and grievance redressal mechanisms.
We have conduct trainings for workers on Occupational Health and Safety where we distribute manuals on Occupational Health to the workers and strive to make workers aware of occupational hazards, their effects and precautionary measures. A round table on e-waste was held in 2015 to engage with multiple stakeholders such as Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and e-waste recyclers

Electronics Workers Education Program

This project is conducted in partnership with Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO). Cividep organizes study circles with workers on an ongoing basis. During these study circles workers are informed about their labour rights and different grievance mechanisms. They are provided with information material such as Cividep’s flyer ‘Missed Call’ and are free to raise questions. Moreover, Cividep is conducting worker trainings on labour rights and worker-management communication strategies.

Shiny Phone, Paltry Pay – how poorly paid mobile phone workers in South India try to make ends meet

This project focused on living conditions of electronics sector workers in Sriperumbudur and was part of a project with Austrian partner organisation Suedwind. The report Shiny Phone, Paltry Pay highlights the poor conditions mobile phone workers live in including low wages that are insufficient to cover all their expenses. Furthermore, Cividep conducted a workshop on Freedom of Association and the right to Collective Bargaining for workers.

Working and Living conditions in Special Economic Zones – A comparative study between India and Indonesia

Together with our partner organization Indonesia for Global Justice, Cividep published a report comparing the legal environment of SEZs in India and Indonesia and identifying the major pull-factors for foreign companies to invest in these countries. The project highlights the precarious working conditions of contract workers and spells out the differences and similarities of SEZ laws and incentives provided to companies such as tax holidays, water and electricity at subsidized rates and relaxation of labour laws to boost production and competitiveness at the costs of workers welfare. This project is funded by Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO).