It’s been almost two years that I have been pushing different computer companies to better track their supply chains in an effort to stop the flow of money into conflict zones. My pleas have mostly fallen on deaf ears.
While I can’t entirely endorse any of the companies’ efforts, since I feel they still fall short of being fully responsible, I feel that Hewlett Packard (HP) is at least trying to change and is the closest to actually doing so. My general feeling on these companies is that they should have full control over their supply line, know whether any stops along the way are human rights abusing and stop the abuse if it is found if they truly want to consider themselves an “ethical” company. If they find abuse, they can choose to ask that supplier to stop the abuse or they have the choice to switch to another supplier. Either way, they have control over this aspect. If the supplier won’t let them in to inspect for abuse, then switch supplier. Simple. It’s fairly black and white with me when it comes to this. We, as consumers, don’t have this choice to the same extent. We don’t know who supplies which company without thorough research, and have a difficult time trying to ascertain the truth from the companies even with thorough research. They say, buyer beware, but when we see “ethical” policies on their website, we assume that it’s the truth. Sadly, in most cases I have found, it is not anywhere near the truth.
Hewlett Packard has started auditing its supply chain and making as much information on those audits available as possible. They have listed the majority of their suppliers in an effort to be more transparent. They have made voluntary promises to investigate their supply chain more closely. They claim to unconditionally support human rights on their web site. They have donated money and equipment to the ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative in an effort to track the tin for their products in the DR Congo. They have also voluntarily joined on to the GeSI Supply Chain Initiative. These efforts haven’t gone completely unnoticed. HP was named #1 Best Corporate Citizen by Corporate Responsibility Magazine. It has been written up repeatedly as an “ethical” company.
The reality though, is still kind of sad. The ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative received only $600,000 for the first six months of its supply chain project. Seems like a lot of money, right? While, before you start applauding these companies for this donation, you must realize that HP, Analog Devices, Apple, Cabot Supermetals, Dell, EMC, IBM, Intel, Lenovo, Motorola Foundation, Nokia, Philips, RIM, Sony, Talison, Telefonica, S.A. Western Digital and Xerox collaboratively donated this money and that within that list sit several companies who are making millions upon millions each year on these tainted supplies while already claiming corporate social responsibility. The $600K donation works out to less than $40K per company for this initiative. Consider that a company like HP spends approximately $235 million per month on research and development of new products, you think they could invest a little more in ensuring human rights are respected in the making of their supposedly “ethical” product line. And before you commend them on reaching the top of Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s “Best Corporate Citizens”, realize that the Coca Cola Co. (accused of massive worldwide crimes, see also here) also tops the list for responsibility.
What it appears like to me is companies using bottom line donations to promote their image, while ignoring a larger problem in an effort to maximize their own profits. Profits should not come before people. You want to be ethical in your product line? Here’s a plan for you. Spend the money, send out auditors to each of your suppliers and their suppliers and their suppliers. Keep them there for (at least) the next year and have them report on each and every violation against human rights. If these violations start to add up, move to another supplier who can agree to your terms. I’m sure there are many other suppliers waiting in the wings wishing on contracts with a massive corporation that would be willing to take some more responsible measures to secure that contract. This is a simplification, obviously it would be slightly more complicated, but there is as far as I can see no real reason they can’t take full responsibility except for monetary and competition reasons, and frankly, that’s just not good enough. War crimes and crimes against humanity are happening for these products, and that’s not ok.
It makes no sense me to that these companies claim they are unable to control their own product line. They have the control. They just don’t want to lose profits because they do not see the competitive advantage in paying more for human rights protection. A few moments in the media of shining glory after some piddly donation has a similar effect as an actual effort. So why put the effort and money in?
Please HP, live up to your ethical promises. Keep the effort coming, and keep transparent. I want to respect you.