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Ask Slashdot: Any Smart Phones Made Under Worker-Friendly Conditions? 371

Posted by timothy
from the ethics-vs-aesthetics dept.
New submitter unimacs writes "So Apple has been under fire recently for the conditions at the factories of their Chinese suppliers. I listened to 'This American Life's' recent retraction of the Michael Daisey piece they did a while back. Great radio for those of you who haven't heard it — rarely has dead air been used to such effect. Anyway, while his work has been discredited, Michael Daisey wasn't inaccurate in his claims that working conditions are poor in iPhone and iPad factories. Given that, are there any smart phone manufacturers whose phones are made under better conditions?"
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Ask Slashdot: Any Smart Phones Made Under Worker-Friendly Conditions?

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  • by Shivetya (243324) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @09:57AM (#39412737) Homepage Journal

    I don't mean to be obtuse, but worker friendly means something entirely different in the US versus China. I would go as far as saying there are a enough differences between Europe and the US that settling on the terms is difficult.

    Pay? Hours? Benefits? Shift?

    Can we throw in the type of job and modify those parameters?

    To be frank the forty hour work week is an aberration. It certainly sounds great, I haven't had one in a dozen years. For some jobs it might make sense. Yet does it have to be across five days a week or can it be done in four or seven?

  • by kervin (64171) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @09:58AM (#39412747) Homepage

    Part of the issue is that consumers may want to do the right thing but have no information as to which is the least of all evils. A device/company/plant database that can be checked before buying an electronic device would help solve that particular issue.

    The idea is not to tell the consumer which way to go. But instead to simply present all the facts and opinions.

    Personally, I would spend a $50 premium over other phones if I knew I were rewarding fair manufacturing practices.

  • by syntap (242090) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @09:59AM (#39412765)

    It may be just me, but if one part of an article is retracted due to false statements or intentional innacuracies, with apologies from the publisher on releasing the story into the wild, I'm not going to base an opinion on ANY OTHER PART of the article or any other material sourced by that author. I'll have an opinion, but I'll base it on other sources.

  • Buy Apple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dixie_Flatline (5077) <vincent.jan.gohNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @10:00AM (#39412773) Homepage

    Listen, Apple's no angel, and neither is anyone else. I think we can all agree on that.

    But Apple is the company making the biggest noticeable difference in this space. Whether that's out of the goodness of their hearts (unlikely) or the fact that the know they're under greater scrutiny because they're the big fish in this pond (considerably more likely), it does mean that the workers in the Apple foxconn factories are the ones that are likely to see the benefits of Apple's largess first.

    Almost universally, however, workers at these factories feel they're better off than they would have been if they'd stayed in rural China. It IS a choice they make to work there; they line up to apply for jobs.

    If that remains unconvincing to you--which is fair--write your political representatives and get them to try and convince the Chinese government to pass better worker protection laws and enforce them. Ultimately, it shouldn't be up to Apple, Samsung, Google or the consumers to protect the people of China.

  • RIM/Blackberry (Score:4, Insightful)

    by alphax45 (675119) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [derfla.elyk]> on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @10:00AM (#39412775)
    AFAIK they are made in Mexico and/or Canada
    As always mixture of foreign and domestic parts.

    As a side note: Depending on how low level you want to go (eg: all the individual parts) you will never find a phone that is made under worker friendly conditions unless you mine the raw materials yourself and go from there. Of course this is NOT realistic!
  • by derfla8 (195731) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @10:00AM (#39412777)

    I find it a crazy FWP that people are so fixated on workers rights in countries where the work they are getting in factories are much better than the alternative. Yet we ignore the plight of minimum wage workers in North America. In major metropolitan areas where housing is unaffordable and public transit is sadly there, why don't we fix things for our own before aiding those who haven't really ask you for your opinion?

  • Japanese phones (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojo@@@world3...net> on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @10:02AM (#39412799) Homepage

    Japanese manufacturers like Sharp are probably your best bet as they do have factories in Japan. Of course many of the components will have been made in China, but that is about the best you can hope for. Unfortunately I don't think Sharp do any phones outside of Japan.

    Maybe LG or Samsung. I know they use Chinese factories for some manufacture, but they do have some assembly done in South Korea. That is about the best you can hope for.

  • Re:Short answer... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @10:09AM (#39412871)

    Not only are the physical devices made under worker-unfriendly conditions, the software for the devices is typically built by those under nearly identical poor working conditions. The storefronts, OLTP backends, charging gateways, etc, etc, etc. The entire industry is controlled by those who wish to milk every possible cent out of their customer bases, and the backends are usually a poorly written hodgepodge of technologies with few experienced workers providing oversight. It's amazing anything works at all.
     
    Posting as AC so I don't get fired from my 120h/week job.... In the US!

  • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice.gmail@com> on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @10:26AM (#39413057)

    I have to agree with this post - my experience isn't quite China, but I think it does carry over.

    At the end of January, start of February this year, I spent nearly three weeks in Uganda - and this wasn't all nice hotels and B&Bs in cushy areas of towns and cities, this was staying with some native Ugandan friends in their normal settings.

    On a social level, these friends were our (myself and my wife) equals - in Ugandan social levels they earned the equivalent of what we did, they held a roughly equal level of job and such. And their "standard" of living, be it *very* good for their setting, is basically the equivalent of one step up from complete poverty in the UK.

    Their kitchen was a basic stone (cast concrete) sink, and a single electrical hotplate on the floor. And thats a step up from what the neighbours used - the outdoor cooking facilities (basically, a fire pit), but only because my friends saved up and bought this for themselves.

    Their bathroom was indoors, but extremely basic. Because they paid a lot more in rent. Others on the same site had to make do with outdoor facilities.

    So we got settled into this - and then we visited our hosts father in his village. Thats a huge huge step down from the comparative luxury our hosts lived in.

    Our hosts father is a vicar in a traditional Ugandan hilltop village, thirty miles from running water, a hundred miles from electricity, and a hundred and fifty miles from an actual paved road. Still lives in a mud hut, the roof covered with well used corrogated tin sheets and (funnily enough, Sainsburies) plastic grocery bags. He eats meat once a month, but still managed to serve his "honoured guests" two types of meat - that would have cost him two months wages, all gone in a single meal for us. His wash facilities is an old plastic jerry can, his toilet a long drop hole in the floor. He and his wife have to travel 9 miles each day to get fresh water, and then gather the wood to make the fire.

    This man sold off 90% of his ancestral lands in order to put his first child through nursing school - and that child had to pay for the next two. He actually really struggled to sell the land as well, because it was seen as "the wrong thing to do" by his fellow villagers.

    And the final place we stayed was with a Bishop of the Church of Uganda. No better really than our hosts - nothing to shout about at all.

    And believe me, these people were seriously well off in the scheme of things. Meeting children who are never going to have a prospect of going to school, who are wearing sack cloth for clothes (I saw that dozens of times just in one 3 hour road trip, and then more turned up at the vicars house), or wearing "GAP" sweaters that have obviously been through at least two generations already. A 4 year old carrying a 2 pint plastic milk carton of water behind his older sibling, on a road where we hadn't seen a house for two miles before, and didn't see one for another two miles.

    I never really thought poverty actually existed, or at least thats what I now think I thought - it just doesn't sink in until you see these things in the real world for yourself.

    One of the huge things that struck me was the fact that you could never trust meat sold anywhere - if you wanted to make sure the meat you are eating hasn't been sitting on the butchers stall for a week then you have to kill the animal yourself, and store the parts you aren't going to eat immediately. The chicken and goat we ate at the vicars was killed shortly after we arrived, basically right in front of us.

    You can't really judge the sort of step up that people in these situations get from jobs like Foxconn, its literally stepping from one world into another. You can shout all you can about how the standards don't match up with western ones, but when seeing the sort of standards these people are coming from you can see why there are thousands lining up whenever there is a mere hint of a job available. It really is the difference to them between "su

  • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @10:31AM (#39413099)
    Cost of labour is a tiny part of the cost of electronic devices nowadays. Believe me...I have worked as an industrial engineer, and I believe that the issue is much more related to the desire to reduce working capital employed, incentives offered by foreign governments, corruption, and fashion - moving assembly to China was seen as big dick swinging by many executives, who could also avoid some of that pesky having to manage people stuff. Assemblers do not want to invest in dedicated automation.

    A converse example is the car industry, where automation is unavoidable because the assemblies are too heavy to be easily manipulated by people. The result is that cars get made in the USA, Europe and Japan.

    I suspect that whoever cited $1400 to make an iPad in the US was either manufacturing-illiterate or had a financial incentive to misrepresent the facts. I would be surprised if assembly in the US added more than $25 to the cost, and unsurprised to find it was more like $5 when everything was taken into account.

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @10:37AM (#39413159) Homepage Journal

    why don't we fix things for our own before aiding those who haven't really ask you for your opinion?

    False dichotomy. We can and should help both workers here and abroad. And they in fact have asked us for our help in many cases, let alone our opinion.

  • Re:Short answer... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sir_Sri (199544) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @10:53AM (#39413371)

    why would it matter? All of the components are coming from the same places likely, whether 1% of the cost of the device in final assembly and packaging is done in one location or another doesn't really change that the CPU is probably made in one of a handful of foundaries in the world, same with the mobo, hard drive etc.

  • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice.gmail@com> on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @11:21AM (#39413705)

    It means these peoples lives are significantly better than what they could be - and you have to be *very* careful not to fall into the trap that I did before I saw Ugandan way of life for myself. The base line in these countries is very very bad, any step up is a step up, but no step up is going to be good enough if you use a western benchmark.

    Out of interest, how much money is Foxconn sitting on? You mention Apples pile of cash, but Apple doesn't have a contract with these workers - they have a contract with Foxconn, and Foxconn is the employer. How much profit is Foxconn diverting from the workers pockets into its own? How much more could Foxconn pay the workers from the current contract revenue?

    I never see that line of enquiry brought up at all.

    In places like Uganda, the difference between a dollar a day and a dollar a fortnight is things like these jobs. And thats a huge increase to these people, it enables them to do so much more.

    So people need to get off their high horses about just how bad these jobs are, and start thinking about the real situation these people are in. The idea is not to create a western level of prosperity in these workers, thats totally unrealistic - why go to Foxconn if the work is going to cost as much as doing it locally?

    And thats the crux of the issue - some people think the benchmark for these jobs is the western equivalent. Its not - because once you go down that road, the only valid outcome is a 1:1 ratio for wages, environment and opportunity between Foxconn jobs and their western equivalents, and thats not going to happen.

    The benchmark can only be how much these jobs raise the local populace out of the local poverty - how much benefit do these jobs give the locals?

  • Re:Short answer... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by A nonymous Coward (7548) on Tuesday March 20, 2012 @02:35PM (#39416505)

    Exactly. Do-gooders who would shut down child labor in dirt-poor countries are applying first world solutions to third world problems. The alternative to kids in shoe factories is not kids in school; it is kids hustling the streets or kids stuck on the family farm, which probably doesn't actually belong to the family in the first place.

    Shorter work weeks and days, and other improvements in living conditions, arise naturally from a better economy. If you try to force shorter working hours, all you will do is cripple the economy and keep everybody poor forever. If outsiders would just go away and leave the insiders to bring about their own improvements at their own pace, the workers would get their better conditions as a natural course of improvement.

    Do-gooders make me puke, how they think they know everything about foreign societies they have never even visited, and everybody over there is too stupid to work out their own problems.

    If do-gooders worked on fixing their own problems, great, but they'd rather fix problems they know nothing of, just as astrologers pretend that using reference tables and calculators and computer programs makes them scientific. Bleaagh.

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