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ICT & electronics sector

The ICT and electronics industry is a competitive and litigious sector [See e.g.: Apple v. Samsung,  Apple v. HTCApple v. MotorolaMicrosoft v. Motorola]. On the one hand, it has tremendous potential for creating positive human rights impacts by offering solutions that, for example, enable remote access to learning, mobile banking and real-time information, which is crucial e.g. in emergency situations, such as in identifying the early onset of drought, enabling response efforts to be mobilised before a situation reaches a crisis point. As a result, ICT can contribute to protecting and realising several human rights (including right to life, health, food and right to water), and help achieve the vision laid out of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development [See e.g. a selection of projects from Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) member companies that illustrate the potential impact of digital solutions on the Sustainable Development Goals]. Additionally, social media platforms have contributed to greater transparency, participation, freedom of expression as well as development and coordination of democratic movements worldwide (see e.g. Why are ICTs important for Civil Society Organizations?, UN).

On the other hand, with the production of short lifespan electronic goods with supply chains that are plagued by occupational safety and health concerns and other adverse labour-related impacts, including “an unsustainable cycle of low wages, human rights abuse, use of hazardous materials and ineffective and unsustainable recycling practices”, [M. van der Velden, Why the most sustainable mobile is the one you own, SMART Project, 2017], ICT is one of the most unsustainable and high-risk sectors [See e.g. ICT Sector Guide on Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Shift & IHRB for European Commission, 2013, p. 9]. The rapid evolution of ICT technologies, supported by strong marketing and promotion campaigns linked to business strategies that aim to launch new high-end product every year, results in still fully functional products becoming prematurely obsolete, rapidly disposed of by consumers, and often subjected to informal recycling [See e.g. M. van der Velden, 2017; SBC e-Waste Africa Project, Ghana e-Waste Country Assessment, 2011, p. 78]. This trend is encouraged by the national mobile network providers and retail sectors, which offer consumers incentives to buy a new phone. [See e.g. M. van der Velden, 2017]. New products demand more natural resources, many of which are “conflict minerals” sourced from conflict-affected areas, with revenues often fuelling armed conflict [See, for example, Frank Poulsen’s documentary “Blood in your mobile”].

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What National Action Plans say on ICT & electronics sector