Google Uses VR To Highlight Responsible Supply Chain Initiative

Google has released two new VR experiences alongside its annual Responsible Supply Chain reports, giving viewers an inside look at the results of progress made in 'worker well-being' and the sourcing of materials used in its products and services. The first of those centers around the factory side of the supply chain and provides a first-person perspective of a Zhuhai-based factory operated by multinational technological manufacturer and Google supplier, Flex. The experience, called Made by Me, focuses on the 'safe and healthy' work environment and training processes at the facility from the perspective of a Flex employee. The second, called Journey of Gold, explores efforts to incorporate and enforce ethical supply chain practices for sourcing gold from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As with the Flex video, it takes the perspective of a single worker. However, the video centers around the problems of illegal mining practices and a pilot program aimed at reducing child labor, modern slavery, unsafe work environments and practices, and ensuring that gold mining is aligned with international standards.

Background: The videos in question provide a more intimate look inside of two organizations responsible for delivering materials or components used in Google's smartphones, servers, and other hardware. The search giant's overall efforts extend well beyond those locations and the associated reports recording working conditions, responsible materials acquisition, and environmental impact have been going on since at least 2013. That all started in 2012, with the company beginning to take a deeper look at how its supply chain handled sourcing of tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold (3TG). It also began enforcing policies that ensure all of the suppliers used by its own suppliers adhere to the same standards and goals listed above. As of the latest report for 2017, 99-percent of its 3TG suppliers are either compliant or actively working toward becoming compliant. This year's focus on the Democratic Republic of the Congo stems from the fact that gold remains a challenge on that front. While nearly 100-percent of its other 'in-scope' materials sourcing is compliant, only 98-percent of its gold supply chain is.

That's still a relatively big increase over the past several years but Google says its an area that its outreach needs work and not at all the only one. The company also notes that although environment, ethics, and management systems categories have improved - down by three percent, five percent, and six percent respectively in terms of non-compliance - both the labor category and health and safety category have worsened year-over-year. Collectively, issues associated with those account for over half of all issues discovered in 2017 during that year's 174 completed compliance audits. Most of those are associated with preparedness for emergencies or workers having to work for more than 60 hours per week. However, there also still appear to be substantial concerns about workers being underpaid and student workers or interns being forced to perform hazardous jobs or work longer hours as well as a lack of controls for those jobs from a management perspective.

Impact: As with most of Google's annual reports concerning humanitarian goals, this year's reports show there's still plenty of work to be done but also seem to indicate a general trend of progress for Google. Meanwhile, the videos help to showcase the optimism of the search giant by giving viewers a closer look at what's being accomplished. Moving forward, the company plans to continue collaborating with suppliers to create a supply chain that it says will be better for workers, the environment, and the technology industry as a whole.

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