Female factory workers in the Philippines who manufacture devices such as laptops and smartphones for the global market are exposed to a wide range of hazardous chemicals at work. A previous Swedwatch report, Toxic Tech – Occupational poisoning in ICT manufacturing, details how these women work in poorly ventilated rooms where they are exposed to hazardous chemicals without proper equipment or training. In interviews conducted by Swedwatch for the earlier report, they described how they have suffered severe effects on their health, including cancer and miscarriages.
In the Philippines unions and labour rights defenders are under constant attack and dozens of human rights defenders are murdered every year. Threats and harassment against those who speak out on labour rights issues is not uncommon and in interviews with Swedwatch workers stated that addressing issues related to the working environment is difficult. Several workers said that if they asked too many questions or spoke out about being exposed to hazardous chemicals, they would risk losing their jobs.
As part of the research conducted for this follow-up briefing, Swedwatch asked five of the world’s largest information and communications technology (ICT) brands that source from the Philippines how they assess and address the issue of workers exposure to hazardous chemicals in the context of the Philippines. Their answers indicate wide gaps in their approaches to human rights due diligence (HRDD). The gender perspective – which should be used to identify how female and male workers are differently affected by the exposure to hazardous chemicals – appears to be lacking. The companies furthermore failed to provide information on how they are addressing the issues specific to the Philippines.
All efforts to protect workers from exposure to hazardous chemicals in the Philippines must consider these key aspects. This process should include a clear gender perspective that takes into account the context-specific factors of the Philippines that may prevent workers from enjoying their right to a healthy work environment and ultimately the most basic of human rights – the right to life and health for oneself and one’s children.