TCO runs a certification scheme called TCO Development that puts products such as phones and computers to the test. Using a host of criteria – whether the producers respect human rights and steer clear of child labour, for example – TCO will sign off on the product as an ethical option. The criteria also include the product's energy efficiency and its durability.
Certification scheme head Niclas Rydell has flown to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to spread the word about the problems the industry faces and creates.
"We're at the congress to speak about the dark side to this industry," Rydell told Swedish news agency TT. "Our solution is to have a certificate for IT products that are more sustainable than others, and try to help buyers and consumers chose these products."
He said that most companies are happy to share info on the environmental impact, as a reputation as a green company has become a marketable asset. Labour and social questions were more complex. Yet for that very reason, Rydell said, many companies welcomed an outside expert to give advice.
"Our solution isn't to hang the companies out to dry, but to create a relationship so we can trust that they'll make changes and improve," Rydell said.
While most companies have been happy to provide information, one giant corporation was the notable exception.
"The only one of the big companies that said no off the bat is Apple," Rydell said. "In recent years, they've been implicated in several less than flattering circumstances, for example that workers employed by subcontractors have committed suicide due to bad working conditions."
Rydell said he believed Apple simply thought the brand was so strong it could not be strengthened by an ethical certificate.
Apple responded to the Rydell's comments via email, telling TT that it placed high demands on subcontractors. Apple also noted that it was the first tech company to work with the Fair Labour Association, and that subcontractor Foxcomm, where the suicides took place, had improved working conditions.