The demand for IT products that have been manufactured in a fair and environmentally sustainable way is growing, but many sustainability issues in the IT industry are difficult to solve. The new report Impacts and Insights 2019 presents a number of keys to faster and more lasting change.
Impacts and Insights 2019 measures sustainability progress among brand owners with IT products certified according to the global sustainability certification TCO Certified. The study includes 20 factories in Asia and South America, that have been audited twice during the time period 2015-2018. In the initial audits, 109 non-conformities to the criteria in TCO Certified were found and by the second audit, 84 of these, or 77%, were eliminated. Substantial improvements in factory working conditions have been made, affecting approximately 46,600 workers. However, excessive working hours and low wage levels are remaining challenges.
“The IT industry increasingly wants to improve working conditions in factories, but if a structured, long-term system for solving problems isn’t in place, a number of problems may be detected in factory audits, but not necessarily solved,” says Sören Enholm, CEO at TCO Development, the organization behind TCO Certified.
To solve these problems, factories must be required to make effective corrective action plans that are followed up regularly by independent auditors. Many issues, in particular within the area of health and safety, have a tendency to return. To avoid factory workers being exposed to the same hazard again, root causes must be found and corrective actions must be monitored also after closure.
“A system of consequences for brand owners is needed to ensure adequate progress. Sustainability work is resource-intensive and there is often a conflict of interest between fair working conditions and goals to minimize cost and time-to-market. We put pressure on the IT industry and can withdraw certificates and restrict factories from manufacturing certified products if the criteria in TCO Certified are not met,” continues Sören Enholm.
Industry engagement is key to solving sustainability problems. Brand owners and factories need to allocate enough resources to their sustainability work. During the time period measured in the report, 2015-2018, awareness and engagement in sustainability grew among both brand owner senior management and factory management, leading to faster progress and stricter requirements on sub-suppliers.
“As an independent organization, we can both offer a structured platform to guide industry progress and push the pace of work. We have an ongoing dialog with brand owner leadership and carry out interviews every year. This approach has been successful and we can see that industry awareness of sustainability issues is increasing,” says Sören Enholm.
The report also points out that change happens faster when brand owners using shared suppliers join together and place the same requirements on the factory owner. TCO Development has insight into the IT product supply chain and can coordinate IT brands to put pressure on shared suppliers as a collective effort.
Impacts and Insights 2019 measures progress during the validity period of the previous generation of TCO Certified, 2015-2018. In December 2018, TCO Development took the next step with the launch of TCO Certified, generation 8, with stricter criteria, a stronger focus on circularity, and a risk-based system of factory categorization.
“As more factories commit to the TCO Certified system and criteria, the span of industry maturity levels widens. With generation 8, we make it easier for IT brands to choose factories that work proactively with sustainability issues. By giving factories that prioritize sustainability a business advantage, we can speed up the shift towards a sustainable life cycle for IT products, concludes Sören Enholm.
About the report Impacts and Insights 2019
The new report Impacts and Insights 2019 from TCO Development measures the sustainability progress among brand owners with IT products certified according to TCO Certified.
The measured time period is 2015-2018 and findings are based on independent factory audits at 20 final assembly factories manufacturing certified products, independent verification reports, and interviews with brand owner senior management representatives.
The report covers three main areas: social responsibility in final assembly factories, hazardous substances and conflict minerals.