Sustainability Impacts Overview: Supply Chain Social Impacts

February 3, 2022

The EPEAT ecolabel empowers purchasers to meet their organizational sustainability goals through their purchasing decisions. Products available through EPEAT include computers, monitors, copiers, mobile phones, televisions, and servers. EPEAT is just one of several sustainable purchasing resources freely available from the Global Electronics Council (GEC).

Why are Social Impacts a Sustainability Concern?

Sustainable products are designed and manufactured in ways that are better for the environment, the people involved in the manufacture, assembly, and end-of-life disposal of those products, and the users of these products.

Workers throughout the IT supply chain, from initial mineral extraction to production, assembly, and ultimately end-of-life processing, have historically been subject to human and labor rights abuses. Integral to the composition of electronic products are tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold, referred to as “conflict minerals” -because they are often sourced from mines with abhorrent human rights violations and are controlled by militia groups that use money from the sale of these minerals to fund violent conflict. These minerals are labeled conflict-free when they are proven to be sourced from mines and specific geographies, such as outside of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where human and labor abuses are minimized. Progress is being made, in part because of the U.S. Dodd-Frank Act, which requires companies to disclose their use of conflict minerals, if those minerals are “necessary to the functionality or production of a product” including tantalum, tin, gold, or tungsten. In 2017, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) decided not to enforce the Conflict Minerals reporting requirement. Even with this, the technology sector outperformed all others in reporting on conflict minerals within their supply chains.1

Along with conflict minerals, workers within the IT supply chain face risks ranging from exposure to unsafe chemicals, use of child labor, excessive working hours, and forced labor. There has been a global focus on these issues in recent years, aided by extensive media attention and leadership by industry associations such as the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA), but the problems persist and is a necessary sustainability impact that the EPEAT ecolabel seeks to address.