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EICC Strengthens Code of Conduct, Adds Key Worker Protections in Fight Against Forced Labor

Image credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip

The Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), a nonprofit coalition of leading electronics companies dedicated to supply chain responsibility, has made the eradication of forced labor a high priority in 2015, as evidenced by a series of recent actions taken to strengthen its Code of Conduct. Today, the Coalition — whose members include AppleCisco, Dell, Eastman Kodak, HP, Microsoft and many more — announced changes to its Code designed to protect workers and a membership vote to ban all recruitment fees paid by workers.

The current EICC Conduct of Conduct, version 5.0, which was ratified by members in 2014 and went into effect on April 1, 2015, has several new provisions to further address issues that can lead to forced labor. The Code prohibits the holding of passports and other key worker documents as well as unreasonable restrictions on movement and access to basic liberties, and requires that workers are provided with a written employment agreement in their native language prior to departing from their country of origin.

Recruitment fees are another major factor that can lead to forced labor, trapping workers in debt to the labor broker or employment agency that recruited or hired them for a position in the supply chain. In response, the EICC took an extraordinary step to further strengthen the Code in a special membership vote that concluded on March 27, 2015. The new Code of Conduct language on fees states: "Workers shall not be required to pay employers’ or agents’ recruitment fees or other related fees for their employment. If any such fees are found to have been paid by workers, such fees shall be repaid to the worker."

This new language is in alignment with the recent U.S. Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) final rule on Ending Trafficking in Persons, issued to implement President Obama’s Executive Order on Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts.

"The electronics industry has been leading the way in the fight against forced labor in global supply chains," said EICC executive director Rob Lederer. "The support of our membership to further strengthen the EICC Code of Conduct and ban recruitment fees placed on workers demonstrates the industry’s commitment to combat forced labor worldwide."

The EICC Code of Conduct goes through an extensive review and update process every three years to ensure it reflects current international norms and addresses emerging issues in the supply chain. One of the primary goals of version 5.0 was to better align the Code with the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The EICC says it has been working for more than a decade to support the rights and wellbeing of workers and communities worldwide affected by the global electronics supply chain. Although its Code of Conduct bans trafficked and forced labor, completely eradicating it in the global electronics industry supply chain remains a challenge for everyone — including EICC members. Last fall, EICC member HP led the charge when it became the first company in the IT industry to require direct employment of foreign migrant workers in its supply chain with the release of the HP Foreign Migrant Worker Standard, but real progress will take time, especially in certain parts of the world; the Coalition announced in January that it will conduct shadow audits and increase its industry and government engagement in Malaysia to further combat forced labor in the region.

Meanwhile, a new initiative by the Tronie Foundation — a Washington-based non-profit organization founded by trafficking survivor Rani Hong, dedicated to driving awareness of human trafficking and slavery — aims to recognize and highlight companies that are doing their due diligence and taking assertive action to ensure their supply chains are free of forced labor: Last month, Hong announced the launch of the “Freedom Seal,” which companies can earn for taking steps to eradicate slavery from their supply chains.


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