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How Socially Responsible Are Computer Companies? 377

Posted by Cliff
from the stuff-to-think-about-for-the-discriminating-buyer dept.
mlc asks: "I'm involved in some projects for social justice, et al., and I'm also a geek. But I've never really given much thought to reconciling the two. How ethical are computer companies, especially hardware companies? Do semiconductor factories in Taiwan treat their workers better than any other factories in Taiwan? Does Dell donate any of its profits to charity? Are there any other tips for the socially responsible computer buyer?"
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How Socially Responsible Are Computer Companies?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    http://www.svtc.org/cleancc/99reportca rd.htm [svtc.org]

    A report card for major computer manufacturers on environmental responsibility. Apple and IBM scored the highest.

  • Academic enowments pay out at about 5% a year. Thus $1M pays $50k/year. This is enough to support something more than one student at the expensive schools, but not enough to support two students.
    However, it supports in perpetuity; a $1M donation lets you have one student in school *forever*

    hawk
  • I'm serious about this. The corporation exists as a means of production, turning the profits over to the shareholders either as dividends or higher share price.

    What gives the directors or executives any moral authority to decide which charities should receive the money? Isn't it better for the shareholders to make this decision?

    Quite frankly, unless the corporation is contributing to charities I want to support, my reaction as a stockholder is that my money is being wasted (and yes, I think the same applies to political spending by both corporations and unions).

    Just hand over the proceeds to the shareholders, and let the shareholders use *their* views on the socially responsible place to spend the money.

  • You don't remember correctly.

    If you can increase your price without losing all of your customers, you have market power. With barriers to entry, you can be a monopolist--microsoft certainly has enough market power to meet any normal economic meaning of monopolist.

    A monopolist *will* charge different prices to different groups if it can keep them separate. It will also lower price and increase quantity if it feels heat that may lead to regulation, consumer boycott, or other activities that reduce its profit.

    hawk, professor of economics
  • As you may or may not be aware, Hewlett-Packard [hp.com] tries to protect the environment from something rather nasty -- toner. They've teamed to up pay for spent toner cartridges to be sent back to them at no cost to you. They have a section on their website [hp.com] where they talk about their environmental policy.

    I finally used up my first toner cartridge last year and they made it trivial for me to send it back to them for recycling.

    They also talk about [hp.com] other facets of their philanthropic image on their website, but I've never had any personal involvement, so YMMV.

  • by quadra (2289)
    Here's your tip, it doesn't matter. Social Responsibility is complete bullshit. I want to buy from a company which spends their time researching and improving their products. If they can make better products, cheaper; the benefit to socitey is far greater than any possible charity could offer. It is completely backward to expect business to act so altruistically. If that were the predominent mentality, we'd still be in the dark ages. Capitalism and the profit motive has resulted in extraordinary advances in technology, especially in medical science. Acting socially responsible has nothing to do with those advances. The fact is that in general, we all live in the general vicinity of our workplace. There's no motive to live in a polluted environment. The most moral and ethical thing a person can do is work hard and get the most from your money.
  • Here on /., Micro$oft is disliked for the quality of the code they sell. (think if the stuff worked.)

    If you think the quality of Microsoft's products is the *only* reason not to use them, you're not listening carefully enough. As recently as last week, they managed to buy their way into the George W. Bush campaign. They will push hard for him to win, because he's not going to push anyone in the judicial branch to do anything about Microsoft. Do you want *any* corporation to have that level of control with any politician? Let alone a corporation that has been judged as illegally acquiring and maintaining a monopoly

  • I'm in the Richmond, VA area, and we have two mom&pop type stores - Unitek computers and NTK computers. Both of them sell the same hardware components that CompUSA sells, at generally about 5-10% less. They also specialize in hardware, and know something about it. The big chain retailers don't really know anything about computers outside what they're told they should know by microsoft. The people running and staffing the mom and pop tech shops do it because they love it and they're good at it, not because they're trying to push their stock price up.

    Whenever possible, I buy from mom & pop hardware shops - there was one exception where I needed a certain drive NOW and they had to order it, I couldn't wait so I had to buy from comp usa, but in general, in my area you always get a more knowledgeable sales staff and a better price at the local non-corporate shops.

  • Most PCs are manufactured in Taiwan, SE Asia, Mexico and E. Europe. Labor is cheaper because they pay less and have fewer benefits and generally have less restrictive labor laws. Moreover the plant itself is probably subject to fewer environmental and safety regulations. The countries they are located in do not have strong labor movements or a culture of litigation. The only exceptions to this scenario would be a government mandated direct intervention, for example an attempt to alleviate high unemployment in Ireland and Scotland and the consequent tax breaks that flow from any large company moving in to hire young well educated people. It's really a synthetic case because the company's addtional cost burden of doing business in an industrialized regulated country; eg. Western, is born by the taxpayers as the cost of keeping people employed. Why else is there such a stink in the US over low-middle tech manufacturing sites just on the other side of the Mexican border being given special status under the old NAFTA? It's the best of both worlds from the company's perspective. Cheap local labor, weak regulation and a close proximity to the advanced technology, distribution and financial infrastructures in the US.
  • by Signal 11 (7608)
    No.
  • I see Kant's "categorical imperative" bandied about much whenever it comes to ethics and morals, but for all I can see it's just another argument of authority. I respect Kant's system, but I'm not going to base my life and thinking on it, by any stretch of the imagination. So the "categorical imperative", despite its own name, is neither categorical nor imperative to me, and shouldn't be to you either, unless you've specifically gone and studied Kantian philosophy and been utterly convinced that that is "truth" to you. For the rest of us, sometimes we'll do as if we followed it, because it actually does make sense in a lot of cases, but it'll be because we coincide at that point, not because of accepting it as a principle.

    The name of Kant tends to command a lot of respect from people; people who would never refer to christian morals as an authority without at least giving a second of thought that not everyone is a Christian, will happily refer to the "categorical imperative" as if it were, well, truly categorical and imperative and universally applicable to everyone whatever their beliefs.

  • Anyway, when glazing over the works of philosophers such as Russell, Godel, Nietzsche, Descartes, etc - do you see them concocting rigid belief systems?
    well, in the case of Descartes, yes, I do.

    now Russell, that was a real smart, open-minded guy. Gödel wasn't really in the business of belief peddling, was he? Where I come from, he's known more as a logician than as a philosopher...

  • What's interesting about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the fact they recently contributed over $100 million to develop an AIDS vaccine. And it was this foundation that helped bail out the United Way of Santa Clara County after it got into massive financial trouble lately. Now, if we geeks can convince Steven Jobs of Apple to shell out US$1 million to upgrade the facilities of KTEH (the PBS affiliate in San Jose, CA).

    Say what you want about Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, but their enormous philantrophic efforts has resulted in many libraries, improvements in institutions of higher education, money for the arts, and on and on. In fact, the Public Broadcast System in the USA would never have been possible if it weren't for generous grants from the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations in the late 1960's.
  • I'm surprised NOBODY here has mentioned Apple Computer.

    After all, Apple was founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, both people firmly rooted in the 1960's counterculture movement and were members of the Homebrew Computer Club in the 1970's. Given that type of background, by nature Apple should be a socially conscious company.

    Now, if we can just get Jobs to donate US$1 million to save and improve KTEH (the PBS affiliate in San Jose, CA).
  • At least two, IIRC - read Cringley' s book [barnesandnoble.com] on the history of Sillicon Valley, I believe he mentions 'em. AFAIK, at the time he wrote it, one of 'em still worked for MS.

    In any case, looking at MS stock price and valuation over the last five years - couldn't dig any further than that on quicken.com - MS has had three stock splits; if you extrapolate backwards, I think that 5 splits since 1990 isn't too unlikely. Which means that anyone who had 500 shares or options in 1990 - including employees with MS stock in their 401ks and the like - and who still holds those shares, has been a millionaire for the last couple of years.

    Given that, I'd be surprised if there weren't multiple secretaty/administrative assistants/salepeople/HR persons/others at MS who are - or have been - millionaires.

  • I would disagree. In my opinion I owe you nothing, and there is nothing I'm required to do for you. I am free to live my life however I want and to run my company any way I see fit (within legal limits of course). You, on the other hand, have the right to decide whether or not you wish to associate with me or buy products from my company. You do not have the right to impose your will on either my life or my company based on your notions of "social resposibility".
  • Anybody who thinks that "giving to charity" is what a truly socially responsible investor wants to see has to have his head examined. Giving to charity is a sop, a PR stunt. What matters is how the workers are treated, how the company cares about its manufacturing effects on the environment, the overall safety of its products, and other concrete things.

    On the other hand, some companies, like Ben & Jerry's, really believe that they have a responsibility to recycle their profits back into the community or society, hence the 1% to charity standard.
    ----
  • There is no such preclusion like you mention, and you clearly aren't familiar with the way the deals work. Schools which receive those donations are free to choose what they want. The only caveat is that Microsoft will support their own software for free, while the schools have to pay for their own support if they don't choose Microsoft. Considering what they're getting for free, it sounds like more than a fair deal to me. Besides, why would you want Microsoft partners teaching you how to use products other than those in which they're skilled?

    Cheers,
    ZicoKnows@hotmail.com

  • But you specifically said that the donations preclude people from learning other OSes. It's simply not true. Yo_Mama said that he'd feel chagrined and worried that the grants would dry up if he stopped using Microsoft software, but where's the evidence that this has happened?

    Here's an article [macconnect.com] on the program from Applelinks.com. Being an Mac publication, you can guess the slant, although it seems a little disturbing for them to refer to Gates as a "villain" for his donations, even as they admit that the libraries can buy Macs instead of PCs. They just won't get technical support if they do. It's hardly Microsoft's fault, except for their popularity, that tech support and training for alternative OSes is harder to come by, and if the library thinks that the burden of having non-Microsoft-OS-running computers is too much of a burden, nobody's forcing them to take the grants.

    And that's the important thing -- the choice. Gates is giving away loads of money to outfit these libraries and schools with free computers if they choose to take them. Even if they decide to go the alternative OS route, it's silly to think that having no computers is better than having some computers but no free support. Hell, I'd practically kill for the offer of free PCs with no OS or tech support or training! It's as if the criticism is for being very generous -- just not generous enough.

    And if Gates really isn't doing it out of an interest in increasing the computer literacy, but instead to pave the way for future profits, then why aren't Larry Ellison, Scott McNealy, or Steve Jobs (I'd especially like to ask Applelinks, "Why not Steve Jobs, then?") doing the same thing? Surely you don't think that those three aren't cynical enough to emulate this tactic if it was all about the benjamins and not philanthropy, do you? Of course not. Sheesh, people act like Gates is the only rich dude on the planet.

  • OK, you're probably a troll, but I'll bite. I submitted this in response to a question that was asked of me: someone was running a big feminist conference and wanted to provide 'net access to participants. She wanted to do this without exploiting women in El Salvador. So, she posted a question to the email list of an anti-sweatshop group I'm a member of. Shocked at my own ignorance, I decided to see if anyone on /. had any info. I've never taken an Ethics class, and, even if I were, I posted the question long enough ago that the assignment would already be due if that were indeed my purpose.
  • Yes, there are often armed guards outside the free trade zones in "third-world" countries. Further, during peak production periods, workers are frequently locked in their factories for shifts of up to 18 hours. (The managers go home, of course).

    If the only jobs availible (because a US-friendly government has taken over farmland) are in sweatshops, people are going to work in sweatshops, whether they like it or not. I don't advocate for an end to manufacturing in the "Global South;" this'd leave the workers utterly jobless and worse off than before. Similarly, I don't even call for a boycott. I merely argue that those working in the factories should be treated like human beings. Workers in a the Carribean Apparel factory in Santa Ana, El Salvador are paid 15 cents for every pair of $16.96 Kathie Lee pants that they sew. If their wages were doubled, and the increased cost were passed directly on to consumers, the pants would cost $17.11. The transnational megacorps are making insane profits, and it's only reasonable for me, given a choice, to pay the extra 15 cents so that someone else can feed her family.

  • When I worked for DEC, and my family as well, we were all active with DEC and The United Way. DEC was a great company to work with, IMHO, until they started selling off the profitable divisions to try and stay afloat...the sale of Disk Drive Manufacturing to Quantum was heartbreaking for a lot of us. Things kinda went down hill from there, and I left long before Compaq bought them, but from my Sister In Law's comments, Compaq is almost as good as DEC was.
  • ... which is a VERY large company, although maybe not as known in the US. And Acer treats their employees very well (at least in Taiwan). I would know about this, my fiancee has been working for them for a couple years now.
  • The point is that his "philanthropy" is effectively no different than droping change in the March of Dimes bank in the checkout line at the grocery store.

  • While BPA is a problem, it is only one of many xenoestrogens that can cause endocrine disruption, (including possibly even the increased incidence of homosexuality in recent years.)

    If your concept of "social responsibility" includes ridding the world of all of the offending substances, you're going to have a tough time.
    There's little evidence that migration of BPA from say a keyboard to a body through skin contact is significant, but it's far more likely to be a problem in the case of bottled/packaged foods that are in contact with the plastics for extended periods. Have you tried to buy juice in a glass bottle lately? It's become pretty much impossible over these last few months. And kids drink a lot of juice. The point here is that while the jury is still out on things like BPA skin exposure, we are ignoring the possibly much greater danger of plastic in food and drink contact applications. Let's keep our priorities straight - iMacs are not the most significant threat even if you're worried about these things.

    Sony:hardware::Microsoft:software
    CompactFlash: IBM Microdrive, Flash, Ether, Modem, etc.

  • Sorry, but United Way support is one sure way for me to tell a company *isn't* serious about ensuring it's moey goes to the right things.

    In addition to serious and recurring scandals involving large amounts of UW money, there's the simple fact that this orgaization is horrendously inefficient, taking several times more off the top for its own operations than do more effective (and unfortunately far less well funded) charities.

    I stopped giving to/through United Way years ago, and I encourage everyone else to do likewise. They are an unnecessary and undesirable middleman in the funds disbursement process, and only serve to sponsor corporate campaigns that paint non-contributors as somehow evil and vile. (Opposing, or even simply not contributing to, UW in some companies can be a serious career-limiting move, something that should in itself give us pause as to the organization's power and true intent...)

    Sony:hardware::Microsoft:software
    CompactFlash: IBM Microdrive, Flash, Ether, Modem, etc.

  • Having never been to Nigeria myself, and not familiar with the real story behind both sides of the struggle there, I'll defer comment on that particular issue.

    I can speak to my personal experience in the environmental area, which is that some of the largest oil companies in the world take their environmental responsibilites *very* seriously, something that both impressed and surprised me when I began working with them.

    Sony:hardware::Microsoft:software
    CompactFlash: IBM Microdrive, Flash, Ether, Modem, etc.

  • Hard drive and microprocessor manufacturing both produce large volumes of highly toxic "stuff". Hopefully someone on Slashdot who knows more about how the biz handles this. It should definetly factor into any responsibly motivated purchasing decision.

    I remember reading an article a few years back in AMD's "PC Currents" about how they reclaim the silicon waste and donate it to art schools and the like where it is used in pottery.

    I couldn't find anything about it specifically on their website but I did find this [amd.com].

  • "If Nike has armed guards outside their factories keeping their "slaves" from leaving the factory then yes, that is horrible. So far though I've never heard of anything like that."

    I don't know about the armed guards outside the factories, but it's interesting you should pick Nike as an example

    Currently, Nike pays very few of it's 'third world' workers enough to keep them above the poverty line. To do so would result in the uncomfortable rise in price for US residents of a whole $2.00 a pair of shoes. (Outrageous!!!). I don't need to know whether or not Nike employs armed guards or not to know that this is unacceptable behaviour. Oh and if you're interested in why Nike doesn't pay a fair wage - well nobody else pays a fair wage either so why should they.

    But of much more importance is you ability to decern quality. Nike does not make quality product. Nike makes consumer goods that you sadly equate with quality because they spend so much money telling you about how you'll have a good lifestyle if you buy their shoes. I can't even remember the last time Nike ran an add that talked about how good their equipment was. Nike's products are certainly no better than their consumers, the only difference is that their advertising budget is bigger and you've allowed yourself to think that because their adverts are good, so must their products be.

    To follow this logic to is conclusion, Microsoft must produce the best operating system, because they spend a lot of money convincing you that your life will be simpler if you use their products, and that they aren't evil.

    It's just a thought!

    Mintslice

  • The problem I have with Bill Gates is that as far as I can tell, the amount he gives in donations is directly proportional to the amount of trouble Microsoft is in with the Justice Department.

    For instance, back in 1997:

    "Among the stingiest of the top givers was William Henry ("Bill") Gates III, ... [his] donations in 1997 came to $210 million, or barely 0.53 percent of his net holdings. Moreover, the money came with virtual strings attached; most of it was earmarked to provide public libraries with Internet access (not books, mind you), a self-serving gift for a software provider if there ever was one. Gates was subsequently quoted by Forbes magazine on the difficulties of philanthropy: "Giving away money effectively is almost as hard as earning it in the first place." Since most of his Microsoft billions are the result of the speculative stock market boom of the '90s and are therefore unearned, it's hard to sympathize."

    Source: http://www.populist.com/98.3.billionaires.html [populist.com]

    Which stands in clear contrast to his behaviour today. Did he grow a heart in the last three years, or is he being forced to donate by some exterior influence?

  • >Free Coke (ahem, the liquid not the powder),

    A cup a day (on average) with a cost of $.20 and your talking almost $50 per employee per year.

    Of course a good high dollar programmers will offten consume 20x that.

    One places I worked found it was cheaper to provide coke than water.
  • No such preclusion?

    "...only caveat is that Microsoft will support their own software for free..."

    Kinda like there's no preclusion when all the PC OEM's will only sell you a PC with Windows on it?

    How did that caveat turn out?

    Or when Microsoft will only sell you Windows WITH Internet Explorer?

    Ask Netscape how that caveat turned out. Ooh...they're called AOL now.

    In fact Microsoft is quite evil in its subtlety of constructing these quid pro quo's....

    Am I wrong?
  • It's in my selfish best interest to purchase from A.

    If and only if you believe that your action will influence manufacturer B -- otherwise you sacrificed something for nothing.

    And I don't believe the shit about "If only everybody did this, then...."

    Well, as a rational being - at least for purposes of this discussion B-) - I can only do as I wish others to do. (See Kant's categorical imperative [britannica.com].) Certainly if I want everyone to buy from A instead of B, I have to buy from A.

    Whether others follow my lead or not, I can't control. (At least, not without using force. While using force to stop polluters is certainly justified, it's outside the scope of this discussion about market choices.) I am responsible for my own actions only; the actions of others don't release me from that responsibility.

  • This is a company that can't even trust it's own employees to not go into a building they don't actually work in.

    Where'd you get that idea from? MS employees can get into any MS building they want 24 hours a day.

    --GnrcMan--
  • The type of thing I posted about is so far from being considered a social responsibility issue that it was moderated down as being "offtopic." Good grief.
  • capable of ethics... yes. but in my view, most companies are not ethical. For most companies, the main goal is making money. money, money and more money. Always more money. In a person I do not see this as a good quality, which often leads to excesses. for a company this is even worse because the people involved usually cannot be made to be personally responsible. So what we basically have is an organization with low morals, if any, for which no person is responsible. This is why I distrust companies.. I would distrust a person with these qualities too.

    //rdj
  • It's not a company's *job* to be social responsible. It's a company's *job* to be ecomomically responsible in making money for those who've invested the capital. Frequently, that does involve 'social responsibility' as a result.

    If you want to be socially responsible, here's your best bet:

    Make the best deal you can, for the best price that you can, and donate your 'extra' money to the charity or cause of your choice. Using the company as a social proxy is in-efficient compared to making a normal buying decision and having your personal causes a separate and distinct thing.

    I'm not against the concept of social responsibility, I just think it's best done independently.

  • Well, I do know that every company I have ever worked for and interviewed with (all silicon folks, here in the US, but some are foreign companies) all stress to their employees that the company needs to be a good neighbor. Some even offer to pay their employees when they do volunteer work. Those ads that GE air I am sure are not fakes by any stretch. They may work the employees hard, but they do try and give back to the community (sure, we can be cynical and say it is all for PR purposes, but does that matter?).

  • Try reading this article:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/991001-000005.html

    The truth behind Gates' so-called "chairity" was discoved many months ago.

    When WILL gates learn to reign in ms's email network??? These embarassing leaks occur so frequently, that I sometimes think there must be a secret resistance working within the collective itself; feeding information to the forces of freedom.

    Anyway, The Register exposed gates' supposed "generousity" as a fraud last year. It's nothing more than a quite cynical PR exercise.

    And it's a grossly overvalued PR exercise at that. Note the paragraph which mentions just *HOW* the values of his donations are computed.

    A rathar pathaetic and transparent ruse, I would think.

    john

  • Ayn Rand was an egomaniac cult leader who could barely support herself selling her books that had one dimensional unrealistic characters to further her black and white self-fulfilling prophecy to simple minds who can barely understand the meaning of shades of gray; Of which her philosophy is conveniently named objectivism, as in, whatever my simple mind thinks and wishes must be objective reality, and subjectivity is just some bull shit concocted up by people who are against reality - as in, my view of the world *must* be objective, and the human individual is an incredible "heroic being" (duh, isn't that word subjective?), so my actions must be right....

    She is a purveyor of replacement dogma with the statement that her philosophy and beliefs allow for freedom of expression, growth and evolutionary thought -- essentially, the new approach fails to take into account all of the marvelous evolution which resulted in his freedom and ability to express his disdain or concern for the state of affairs extant. Self-fulfilling prophesy is always convenient and safe. It's anything but evolutionary.

    A good critique of the objectivist philosophy is at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/7842/otjindex.htm. It's certainly an interesting read. Keep all this in mind when reading her books. Also keep in mind that in her time, there was paranoia of the red commie pinko threat - and she actually testified to government committee regarding all the commie pinko's in the film industry (remember McCarthy?). She has some very interesting insights into flaws in collectivism - but beyond that, there is an unforgiving dichotomy in her rigid belief system and her so called promotion of individual thought.

    As an aside, I find it incredibly funny that pages such as that of the Ayn Rand society read very much like religious and racist cult web sites.

    ----

    Now, in regard to public corporations and social contributions; I believe that there should be a separation of church and state. Any programs that don't further the company in some way are certainly questionable when considering efficiency. That doesn't mean that I'm a heartless bastard. It just means I think that if people in the company want to start such a foundation, then they can in their own free time. As for giving non-profit corporations cheaper prices -- the corporation selling to them can probably benefit through some government tax scheme anyway.

    This, however, should not be a rational basis from which one would enslave workers in foreign countries or dump toxic waste into a nearby lake. Laissez-faire capitalism shouldn't be a means to institute and promote tyranny or totalitarianism, especially in foreign economies. It also doesn't mean that they can take advantage of their employee's here or at large.

    In the microsoft case someone talked about above: If employee's feel that they have been duped and a certain corporation has found a loophole -- then let them take it to the courts and possibly set a precedent either way and have their reputation damaged (many foreign countries, of course, have no such rules, which makes these primarily complex ethical issues).
  • I was establishing a colloquialism drawing a parallel from which a corporation would be the "state" and the curch would be the social programs. I apologize for the mixup and should have made that more clear. On slashdot I prefer writing in long incoherent rants, so that often happens :)

    "Morality is not about efficiency, it's about doing 'the right thing'"

    Yes, again, sorry for not being clear. I was referring to the establishment of social foundations, charity groups, et al in the public corporation. I meant this primarily in regard to issues it is not directly tied to. However, it would make sense if their promotion of such issues would help the company in the long run or somehow morally balance the wrongdoing they are currently doing today and/or in the past (e.g., company x who dropped toxic waste in lakes in the past working with government agency such as EDF to collaborate with other companies {y,z} to create a more environmentally friendly management process because of law or internal or external moral pressures)

    "when a company goes to a country that has lax labor laws, or is a dictatorship, it supports them."

    Yes, as I said, these are complex ethical issues which can't be glazed over with hasty generalizations. There is a difference between, say, Wal-Mart employing lower wage blue collar work in countries where socio-economic conditions that allow them to produce for less - and one where they are employing child slave labor in Bangladesh and then sticking a "Made In America" sticker on it (which they have done in the past).
  • I have no complaint with this point. I meant this in regard to philanthropists in a company using its profits to further their normative world view in a circumstance where they aren't directly helping the company.

    If owners of a corporation agree that such philanthropy will be good PR, and the community at large will, according to economic laws of utility, put value in their philanthropic social standing - then so be it. When voting with our dollars in an economic system, we take the sum of variables from utility in our perceived world - whether positive and negative factors. Note that I say perceived because we are only able to take into consideration factors that we are aware of.
  • Damn I guess I should stop licking my imac!
  • Most, if not all, of American wealthy-types do give to charity because they're more comforable giving X amount (which will be lost regardless) to an organization they choose to give to than one they're forced to give to, the IRS.

    I don't think very many give anything past what isn't deductable.

  • Von Braun was not the first man to make a rocket engine. Solid fuel rockets have been aroung since the Chinese invented gunpowder. He wasn't the first to play with liquid fuel either. In fact, most of his work was a rehash of Robert Goddard's decade old designs. Goddard had gyro guided, blast-vane directed liquid-fuel rockets up in the air when Von Braun and company in the German Army were still trying to get a fuel pump that didn't cause the rocket to explode on the pad.

    The V-2 choke shutter was a novel idea though, although I don't know if that was Von Braun or not.
  • No, I meant the V-2. They used a simple cycling shutter and several small pump assemblies to control fuel whereas the US and Goddard had used rather complex gear mechanisms, transmissions, and one huge pump. Allowed the motor to go to a reliable 50% cycle for cruise, and the mixture could be adjusted so that no fuel oil sprayers were needed for startup.
  • not to be a dick, but have you ever donated 600$ to a scholarship fund? I haven't, and I consider Bill Gates to be a better man than me in the charity arena because at least he's giving up a couple tenths of a percent - I'm giving 0% to charity currently.
  • that I know of is the one I work for.. HP..

    Since I've been here I've come to realize that Hewlett-Packard does a lot for the community.
    In particular, there is a very close alliance with United Way and conducting a donation drive annually.
    Also HP focuses its efforts locally. For instance, our site's contributions directly benefits the surrounding area.

    I think companies and ESPECIALLY ones with earnings in the 10^9 $US should contribute to the surrounding community of its offices. If for NOTHING else, than to the betterment of the educational resources for the families of the community in which the company resides..

    i'm happy to work for a company that shares this viewpoint.

    :)
  • Since we're talking about shoes and quality, I'd like to iterate what I discovered the last time I bought a pair of shoes.

    The only kind of shoes I will wear are ones of the Airwalk or Vans style. (Lowtops, suede-like material) When I went looking for some, even at supposed bargain stores, the cheapest I could find them for was $50, and those were styles I didn't even like. Somewhere within the last few years, Airwalk and Vans must have gotten popular or something because their prices were nearly double what they used to be. So disgruntled, I was about to walk out of the mall, but figured I'd try Payless (no, this isn't an endorsement. :P). Well guess what? I found an awesome looking pair of Airwalk clones that were only $20! They have no name on them except for a tag on the inside, but look pretty damn cool. I've had them since chirstmas and so far they show no signs of wear, except for being a little dirty.

    So the moral here is that something that doesn't have to cost a lot of money to be high quality. And many times the stuff that is high priced isn't worth half of what you pay for it. Case in point, my Tekram SCSI card [tekram.com]. :P

    Just occured to me, that this is probably a LOT off-topic. :P

  • If there are companies out there that engage in friendly activities, advertise it. I eat vegetarian, and try to purchase organic foods as much as possible because it's not only friendly for the earth and my body, but tastes better as well. Companies should let it be known on the packaging that they engage in friendly practices, and that your purchase of their prodcut won't go towards enslaving someone else on the other side of the planet to make more of what you bought.

    I thought that's what writing programs and building robotics was all about, reducing the amount of labor required by people instead of increasing it, and reducing the pleasure from it.

    If computers are more perishable than fruit... (the machine I bought 3 months ago is obsolete already) then where is all this stuff supposed to go after it's lifespan is finished? Why are we leaving behind this wonderful legacy of well constructed open source systems, if there won't be anyone around to use them? Contributing to the source pool adds strength to the group, so does being kind to our planet.

    Now what I'd like to see it a keyboard, mouse and case to be made out of wood, and have some nice detail carved in.

  • Many people on this board are involved in the software end of things and so may not realize that the people who actually do the grunt work in the fabs are paid rather poorly. In the 1950's, '60's and early 70's, the American auto industry was booming, and a person could drop out of high school and in a few years of working for Ford, GM, Studebaker, etc. he could be making a wage that would support a stay at home wife, children, mortgage, and a car of his own. Today's Fab employees don't have the benefit of a union to represent them. Now granted, some benefits that unions once fought for are standard (such as health insurance), but the wages are not high enough for a household with a single working parent to achieve any kind of financial security. All this without a pension. The only way to achieve a living wage in the semiconductor industry is to either stay at the same job excessively long (10+ years) or to advance into some kind of engineering. The social darwinists that sometimes appear on this board will probably say that anyone who can't get out of being a fab lackey after a couple of years doesn't deserve better. But I look into my own fab and see many single mothers working the night shift so they can be home during the day because they can't afford child care. They don't have time to finish the 2 year EE degree that would get them a higher paying job maintaining the equipment. The semiconductor industry that we so often hold up as a great symbol of improvement is built on the backs of these kind of people.
  • What would be useful for those who want to include social concerns into their purchasing decisions would be to have a central source of information listing various technology companies in terms of environmental responsibility, treatment of workers, charitable endeavors, etc. (there probably is one already, I'm just not aware of it) Once enough prominent firms show some altruistic works, there might well be a "me too" effect that draws more companies into the process.

    I know there are mutual funds out there that are supposedly made up of "socially responsible" firms, so that might be a good place to start.

    That said, I think we'll see these New Economy corporations get more involved with their communities, but it will be a few years off yet, while these companies and their markets mature. With business moving along at "internet speed", charitable works end up ranking pretty low on the priority list. There's simply too much going on right now.

  • I didn't mean to imply that VB had invented the rocket (heck, Edison didn't event much any of the things he's famous for-- god bless those smarty-pants Europeans for beating him to the punch.) I meant that VB and Edison are analogous in that VB is the rocket guy much as Edison is the lightbulb & electricity guy.
  • Here [salon.com] Is an interesting article from Salon about large companies donatin to charity. Included are HP, IBM and MS. It's dated but relevant.

    Here [capitalresearch.org] is a little more recent set of numbers for MS, HP, IBM, Oracle, Apple and some others.

    It even talks about Bill's personal charity foundation.

    -Marc

  • But, to be fair, many of those sites were made before the toxicity levels of those chemicals and their effects upon the enivronment were well known.

    (Much less having waste levels mandated by law, which is what really drives most companies clean-up efforts.)

    (Side-Side note: Even if you know X is bad, if you do something about, and it is not mandated by law, then your stockholders will hang you out to dry for wasting their dividends!)

    CSG_SurferDude

  • I guess this just goes to show that rarely is a person really good or evil, just a human being. I dislike Bill Gates, but not really on a personal level. I dislike the power he wields over the computer industry. I can respect the fact that he made some very good (some what lucky?) business decisions early on in his career to become successful. What I don't respect is the way his corporation has acted nor do I respect many of the crappy products it has released.

    But it is nice to see him give back some money. It would be even nicer to see him take a break from his quest to rule the world and personally donated time to a cause. For all we know some PR person that makes 6 figures a year cuts the checks for publice relations purposes.
  • My brother-in-law and sister-in-law work for a semiconductor plant in Taiwan (Dong-Yuen, I think; it's Japanese). He is a quality control inspector, she was too, but has quit to be a mommy. They have never complained about mistreatment, though my brother-in-law had a boss who wouldn't reccomend him for a promotion because he was too valuable... that was eventually resolved. Taiwanese companies in general seem to treat their workers about the way US companies do, modulo the different expectations they have (they don't want time off for Christmas, do want time off in February for new years...). That is to say, it's a real mixed bag. My relatives seem fairly contented with their jobs, including my brother-in-law, the pharmcist who works for Hoechst (sp?) and most of the rest of them. THe standard of living there is close to ours, and life seems to be pretty good.
  • or even to learn how to program computers so they can join the benefits of the technology enconomy.

    Sounds like a good idea except that it reminds me of something we learned about in religion class; for some people, poor, starving people especially, God (or whatever you want to call...err...it) can be a slice of bread. For others, God can be the love of a friend. But you cannot enjoy the love of a friend before your other basic needs are met. Relating more to your post, yes, teaching them to use computers and to participate in the "technological revolution" (yea! I'm trendy!) would be wonderful but I think we'd have to be sure that their other, more, err, Darwinian?, needs were met. After all, if you were on the verge of starvation, would you like gobs of computing power or a peanutbutter and jelly sandwich? Hmm, perhaps that was the wrong question to ask on this forum. I think my point is somewhat obvious....just in case, no, we couldn't just throw computers at them when they are starving, we'd have to wait for them to be well-nourished. Or better yet, we in the first world could get our heads out of our asses and realize that there are other freaking people on our rock!

  • Contrary to popular belief, Microsoft is probably actualy nice to many of its employees.

    Actually, it's more "contrary to the uninformed person's belief" rather than "contrary to popular belief". Anyone who's read a Bill Gates biography or a history of Microsoft that's more than 5 pages (ie: not some article on the web) would know that Microsoft has been good to their employees for years (heck, I guess I could almost even say "decades"). Free Coke (ahem, the liquid not the powder), all company retreats (I'm unsure if they still do this, but they used to) and how many millionaires has Microsoft made with it's stock?

    It is under such scrutiny that is can't afford not to.

    As you've seen from my above paragraph, this didn't start recently. I mean, come on! Do you really think Uncle Bill was a whip bearing slave driver until the DOJ came along? I think not, and as a matter of fact, I know not.
  • I'm not sure about Dell, but our (*ahem*) good friend Bill G. has given extremely large quantities of money to charity. Guess the guy isn't ALL bad... just mostly ;)

    -- Dr. Eldarion --
  • Statistics and finance don't always tell the whole story. GDP, for example, is supposed to indicate the 'health' of an economy in financial terms. In many ways, it's entirely whacked out in terms of the contentment and happiness of the people.
    Take the Oklahoma bombing, for example: If all you care about is profits and GDP, the bombing was actually GOOD for Oklahoma. Overtime for firefighters and police in the rescue and investigation stages; Media station overtime spent covering the incident; Medical companies made a killing (excuse the pun) taking care of the non-dead victims; here were the psycharitrist and therapy bills for people who dealt with the aftermath; costs for replacing the bombed out building, and the money that went into demolishing the remains, etc..
    Then there were the volunteers: These people should be thrown in jail for the suck that they are on the economy. If it wasn't for these people, so much more would have had to be done by paid professionals -- thus further increasing the GDP. Instead all of this sorely needed work gets done and no money changes hands!

    So, if all you care about is profits and GDP, encourage acts of wanton terrorism, and blow up volunteer support sites.

    Disclaimer: If you can't get the sarcasm in this you are in SERIOUS need of help

  • that's just great..and just what I would expect to hear in our consumer-oriented society. So using your line of logic, you view the company making Brand X to be more "socially responsible" than Brand Y even if Brand X uses slaves to make their products, while Brand Y has entirely humane conditions and donates all of its money to charity? I realize that these are ridiculous examples, but following your line of logic they would have to hold. I know that there aren't situations exactly like this in the real world, I'm just trying to point out the ridiculousness of basing a determination of social responsibility just on product quality.
  • No, I certainly don't "get it." I don't think that's what the poster was trying to say, and even if he was trying to say that it would still be a useless statement. "Whoever is nicest has the best product" is in no way useful--is that supposed to mean that whoever has the best product must have been the one practicing the most socially responsible actions, or is it supposed to mean that the poster believes that whoever is most socially responsible to him makes the products that are the best? If it's the latter, this in no way answers the question about how socially responsible the industry is. If it's the former, it's just plain foolish.
  • Yeah, but look at his will, he is giving 10 million in trust to his wife and each of his children (if any), the rest is going to charities helping the underprivilaged, education and health, especially int he developing world.

    Whether or not you like the company the man seems to have a vision of the benefits to come from his extraordinary wealth.

    I for one salute him on this.


  • Contrary to popular belief, Microsoft is probably actualy nice to many of its employees.

    I know one of my freinds that works there (Microsoft) and he knows the "dirty tricks" MS trends to play with it's enemies, but from my freind: MS is extremely loyal to it's freinds (employees). My freind claims to make 2 times for sys admin work then any other company was willing to pay, and the longer employees work their, the more benifits they receive. Sure, most people look at Microsoft as a "stable" job that is sure to be there for awhile, it isn't as sexy as a "startup pre-ipo Linux company", but if you have a wife and kids, sometimes risk isn't the best thing.

    He claims it is a really postive and uplifting place to work in, he says MS does take care of it's employees and maintains loyalies between them.

    Sure they make Crappy Software [linux.org.uk] and in that sense, socially non-responsible, but proving a decent to great workplace, in that sense they are socially responsible.

    Not that I use or work for MS or anything, just stating information my freind gave me (which probably isn't worth a whole lot of /. :)
  • Well...hmmm...I know also that many technology companies employ slave labor in stuff like that (such as Lucent technologies, as is implied in their proxy a while back when they voted to _not_ get rid of slave labor) and also very low wages. Unfortunetly, the worst stuff goes on with the builders of the components like Intel, so you can't just go a build your own computer. Well...what I guess you could do is just build your own components, but that might be a rather big job. What I suggest you do is write to the companies you are worried about asking them to reconsider their actions. On your next point, I know that several tech companies do a lot of charity work such as matching donations and a lot of other monetary things and also things like employee volunteering weeks and things such as that. Unfortunetly, this is a very difficult question to answer and I'm glad it was posted. Good Luck! :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @09:33AM (#1137417)
    Speaking as a student who knows many Microsoft employees and temps, I can tell you that the vast majority of their permatemps remained hourly employees by their own choice.

    Good temps are usually offered a fulltime position after about 6 months of work. This has happened for countless of my friends. Those who don't care about overtime usually take the position. However, I know many, many workaholics that plan to spend at least 60 hours a week at work and want to get paid for the time. These people usually refuse fulltime work, choosing instead to make massive amounts of up-front cash through overtime.

    Yes, they are denied benefits and stock options this way. However, their base pay works out to be up to double what a fulltime employee makes, especially if they have been around for a year or two. Many of my temp friends choose this route because it gives them a lot of freedom if they decide to leave the company. Options are great if you plan to stay around for 5 or 10 years, but if you leave after only a couple of years then you can only cash in a very small fraction of your options.

    In short, I know a lot of people at Microsoft and cannot think of a single temp who has been abused by the company. They voluntarily trade benefits and options for immediate cash. It's hard to argue that you are an exploited temp when Microsoft repeatedly offers you a fulltime position and you turn it down! However, this option will soon be denied to them because of the greed of a few contractors who want to have their cake and eat it, too.

    People love to compare the plight of the MS contractors to that of sweatshop workers. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are talking about wages that start at $20/hour and go up from there, with time-and-a-half overtime. These people are hardly starving. If MS has committed ethical violations, it is not with their work force.

  • by Phaid (938) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @08:34AM (#1137418) Homepage
    What are you smoking, and where do I get some? Really, have you already forgotten the efforts of Microsoft to abolish time and a half overtime for their hourly contract employees? When they tried to get the state of Washington to exclude "information tech" workers wholesale from that particular benefit?

    Try going there yourself before shooting off like that.

    Contract workers are one thing, employees are another. I've been to Microsoft's campus for interop meetings they've hosted, and it's quite a nice place to work. Every employee has an office, every building has a cafeteria, there are break rooms on every floor with racks of free soft drinks. From a visitor's perspective I'll say that they cater very well. People who work at Microsoft spend a great deal of time there, and the company makes an effort to ensure that these employees don't mind being there. The department I dealt with has meetings one Friday afternoon each month where beer is served. No one complains about their salary, or the stock options, etc.

    The point is, certainly from a physical comfort standpoint it's quite a nice place to be an employee. The culture is weird and ethically I could never work there, but that doesn't mean its an unpleasant place to spend half a week.
  • by slew (2918) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @10:58AM (#1137419)
    Giving $100,000 to United Way isn't the same as...
    giving $100,000 to the ACLU which isn't the same as...
    giving $100,000 to PETA which isn't the same as...
    giving $100,000 to GreenPeace which isn't the same as...
    giving $100,000 to the Sisters of Charity...
    giving $100,000 to the Sierra Club...

    I doubt people can come to an agreement on a valid comparison as to the social-environmental
    benefits vs the dollars contributed...

    I'd rather see companies spend less on charity so that we can spend more (and get the results we
    want instead of what the sleazy charity fundraisers can trick a company into giving)...

    Personally I think most of these "charties" spend too much of thier money on themselves rather than
    the causes they champion. United way for example, is one of the lower-return-per-dollar charaties.

    Environmental contributions aren't much better...

    One of the current hot debate topics is the issue of destroying dams in the columbia basin
    (NW united states) to restore the original river flow...

    The destroy/restore side:

    http://www.removedams.org/index.cfm

    One would think this is a no-brainer, but more in-depth analysis indicates there's another side
    to this debate:

    http://www.buchal.com/links/links.htm

    Which is right? I won't give my opinion here, but suffice it to say, I don't want any company that
    delegates the task of figuring out which one is right to somebody who "unfortunatly, doesn't have
    any time to do the legwork today" (to quote a poor unfortuante soul) attempting to figure this one
    out for me...
  • by llywrch (9023) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @12:32PM (#1137420) Homepage Journal
    In another life, I worked for a contruction consulting/management company. Our customers included Intel, AMD, Fujitsu, & Cypress.

    I remember one of the engineers referring to the hazardous chemicals used by these companies as the ``Oh" gasses. ``Oh" as in if you smelled one of these hazardous materials, you'd be dead before you could say the second syllable of ``Oh shit."

    The smarter companies that handled these things took extreme care in keeping them under control: they knew that if an accident happened with one of these chemicals, it would make Bhopal look as serioius as a fart in church.

    However, I know of one company that has been playing loose with the laws -- not one I mentioned above. This company has several buildings constructed that were never approved by the county inspectors, wherein they store this nasty stuff -- at least when I heard about it around 1990. And if they never bothered to clear it with the county, I wonder if they bothered to verify that the construction was right, & the buildings *are* safe enough to store the stuff in. Unofrtuantley, there is only one way we'll ever find out . . .

    I wonder when the day will come that a disgruntled employee -- or ex-employee -- of this copany takes a map of the campus, checks the building records at the county against it, & blows the whistle.

    It would be a lot more fun as payback than suing for harassment or lost wages.

    Geoff
  • by Samrobb (12731) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @10:41AM (#1137421) Homepage Journal

    Pardon me, but you ignored a critical part of his point:

    Using the company as a social proxy is in-efficient compared to making a
    normal buying decision...

    In my mind, a "normal buying decision" includes things like, oh, does this company exploit third-world child labor? Do they try to legally abuse their employees, or use the law to silence critics? Have I ever heard of them being entangled with violations of environmental laws - and if I did, was it a real violation, or some tin-pot beaureaucrat making political hay?

    In other words, someone making a "normal buying decision" wouldn't think your murderer's offer of a Rolex for $10 was a good deal. They might end up looking at the same Rolex from a bunch of different companies, none of which was obviously more "socially conscious" than the others, and end up deciding none of them are either socially conscious or socially corrupt, and that saving $10 and giving it to the Little Sisters of the Poor is more worthwhile than spending 3 weeks researching Rolex resellers to determine which one was more worthy of your money.

  • by jabber (13196) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @09:49AM (#1137422) Homepage
    Here is a general rule of thumb, that someone still has to disprove:

    Quality costs money. If something is being done in a way that doesn't make sense, figure out who stands to profit from this, and it will make sense.

    Quality parts are more expensive to make than shoddy and unreliable parts.

    Workers who make quality parts have to work more slowly/carefully, and CARE about what they make. To care about one's job, one has to enjoy it (at least somewhat). Further, to care about one's job, the job must be worth holding on to.

    For a job to be worth holding on to, it must be more qualifiably/quantitatively better (lucrative/interesting/...) than the alternative.

    High-tech production facilities can not exist in a vacuum, and so are in competition with other industries for workers (even in the Far East, a chip fab must be close to a dock, and Nike factories).

    Conclusion: The cheaper the parts, the less a company pays it's workers, the more poorly treated the company's workers are. We can be reasonably sure that workers in hard-disk plants are paid and treated better than those in Kathie Lee's sweat-shops, but I'm sure that people working for Western Digital are treated better than those in the employ of Maxtor.
  • by DHartung (13689) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @09:30AM (#1137423) Homepage
    Perhaps not, but investors are under no obligation to invest in companies that maximize efficiency by breaking the law, or even obeying the law in less-than-admirable ways, such as paying workers too little, working them too hard, hiring them too young, dumping pollutants in rivers, creating products that are dangerous, bribing and stealing, and so forth.

    Unocal says in all innocence they have no idea that <a href="http://jinx.sistm.unsw.edu.au/~greenlft/1995 /187/187p21b.htm">the Burmese government is forcing villagers at gunpoint to clear the way for their new pipeline</a>. Yet they have every incentive to look the other way on a deal literally decades in the making. Is that what an investor likes to hear, that they are making profit on the backs of slaves?

    Investors who stick with companies that are socially <b>irresponsible</b> deserve criticism.
    ----
  • by Sloppy (14984) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @11:28AM (#1137424) Homepage Journal

    Ayn Rand was an egomaniac cult leader who could barely support herself selling her books that had one dimensional unrealistic characters to further her black and white self-fulfilling prophecy to simple minds who can barely understand the meaning of shades of gray

    I don't know much about her so-called cult, and I'll agree that her novels and characters were terribly unrealistic. But she was right about some important things.

    I don't know how it happened, but somehow, by the late 80s, I was a bleeding heart liberal. Too much "We are the World, We are the Children" and "Hands Across America" type mentality exposure, I guess. (Damn, I feel nauseous just thinking about certain aspects of the 80s.) I just couldn't stand the thought of anyone acting purely out of self-interest, and I thought it was the government's job to somehow force a certain set of values (arrived through some sort of democratic concensus, I guess?) upon the economy through the means of taxes and subsidies. Taxes and subsidies -- that was my answer to everything.

    Ayn Rand woke me up. And not a minute too soon, IMHO, before I threw my life away on the ridiculous premise that I'm suppose to live for the sake of others, and assume that others will help me if I screw things up.

    Ignore the laughable attempt at science fiction through John Galt's magic generator, and the wacky high-handed way that she preaches (the part where she explains how a bunch of train wreck victims deserved to die being the most ridiculous), and the incredible coincidence that Reardon Steel just happened to really live up to its hype, thanks to Reardon's almost mystic insight into metallurgy. Yeah, it was a bad novel. But the message that she preached was a good one: that we're responsible for ourselves and shouldn't depend on "society" to take care of things for us. Now what the hell is wrong with that?

    Ayn Rand's dogma is so contrary to what the media tries to pound into us, day after day, that the shock of it makes you (well, it made me) question everything. And skepticism is a damn fine thing. I'll trade you ten zombies for one Rand cultist any day!


    ---
  • by seebs (15766) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @08:51AM (#1137425) Homepage
    I generally hope to buy from companies that are doing their best to be as efficient as possible. I'd rather spend 5% less, and buy something from a company that gives nothing to charity, then buy something from a company that makes a big deal about giving to charities. I'd rather pick my own charities, and I'd rather not support yet another layer of people who get paid to come between me and the recipients.

    This doesn't mean I don't mind companies dumping toxic wastes...

    Still, I find the most socially responsible thing I can think of is for a company to do its best to produce a good product, handle it efficiently, and not waste resources. If they do this, I am likely to end up with more time and money to spend doing the socially responsible things *I* care about.
  • by frantzdb (22281) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @09:02AM (#1137426) Homepage
    Clearly Open Source software is awfull for the workers. Think about it now, most work for what? NOTHING! Most of these poor people work at awfull hours, sacrificing their nights, weekends and their sleep, and social lives. Open Source Software is clearly a socially unacceptable industry that must be stoped at all costs. Help the poor programers. They may say that they do it for fun but don't be fooled!
  • by Shotgun (30919) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @08:26AM (#1137427)
    How would you like to spend all day lining up the same two pins on a resistor to the same two holes on your board. How would you like to spend all week at it?

    I spent 4 years doing it at AT&T (later called Lucent) and it beats the hell out of construction work or being on a road crew. The nature of electronics requires a controlled environment. Sweat on a circuit board before solder is applied will play havoc with your quality control. I wouldn't bet that foreign high tech factories are as nice as those in the US, but I can almost guarantee that they are better than sweat shop conditions in textile factories.
  • by dublin (31215) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @01:20PM (#1137428) Homepage
    I can also tell you that, especially in California, many of these laws are completely ridiculous, and the "toxic chemicals" may not be toxic, or even "chemicals" at all.

    Case in point: my first job out of college was at an aerospace company in southern California that built carbon fiber composites. These are inspected using an ultrasonic imaging technique in which two robot arms squirt a stream of water at opposing sides of the part and the ultrasonic "beam" is propagated through the water. Regular lab-grade deionized water was used in this procedure since you wanted good clean water and didn't want to have to worry about scale buildup, etc.

    CA law says, though, that because the deionized water had been "used in an industrial process" (which amounted to nothing more than pumping it through some tubing for a couple of weeks) it was now "hazardous waste" which had to be disposed of at great trouble and expense.

    Some of this "hazardous waste" found its way into the drains, as it should have. However - and this is an important caveat - if they had been caught, they could have been charged with "dumping hazardous waste". What a complete and utter racket. I have *no* respect for the enviros and their govenmental thugs after seeing things like this happen in the real world.

    Believe it or not, oil companies are among the most ecologically conscious companies on the planet. I worked on an emergency oil spill response network a few years back, and the oil company environmental guys take their jobs *very* seriously. I assure you that at least for the companies I worked with, they will take literally heroic, life-threatening measures to mitigate any damage - like boating into a river of fire in a combined flood/pipeline rupture near Houston a few years back to determine the correct location of the break when all the landmarks were underwater. (This rupture later proved to be due to natural causes from the 1000-year flood scouring the dirt from a few hundred yards of now unsupported pipeline, which finally couldn't stand the strain: it actually broke almost 1/2 mile from the normal river channel.)

    Make sure you have some experience with the folks responsible for environmental activities at a company befoer making your decision based solely on the rants of some whiner with a website. This was a company that many people love to hate, and I came away convinced they cared more about the environment where they operated than *anyone* else, including the enviros and especially the gov't flacks.

    Sony:hardware::Microsoft:software
    CompactFlash: IBM Microdrive, Flash, Ether, Modem, etc.

  • by Cuthalion (65550) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @09:30AM (#1137429) Homepage
    However, some decisions can be financially correct but morally wrong. For instance exploiting child labor in a third world country and paying them dirt, or dumping hazardous waste somewhere legal but still dangerous, may be the 'best' deal they can make. Donating the resultant profits to charity is not a reasonable substitute for making consciencious decisions in the first place. (Only partially because it's ALWAYS easier and cheaper to break things than to fix them)
  • by dennisp (66527) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @02:29PM (#1137430)
    Please allow me to elucidate plainly upon my original point without the weighted "cult" rhetoric which bears an extremely negative connotation:

    If you look further into various philosophies, manifesto's, movements, et al, you will find they most always bring one to question their current perceived reality. This applies across to pseudo-religion, cults, racist groups, some political movements, ad infinitum (e.g., environmentalism, punk rockers, liberalism, communism, nazism, freemasons, scientologists, *gasp* even some religions, et al etc etc). For example, if you go call up the local American communist party - do you think they will tell you that they didn't employ skepticism in shaping their idealogy? I thought not.

    You have to make the distinction between that and the thoughts elucidated heretofore in the objectivist philosophy. You might then say: "Why do you feel so strongly about such things as political manifesto's? They are harmless.." Well, I have to admit - I too, had fell in a terrible ism pothole many years ago. I too had found that this had opened me up into a world of skeptical thinking. What I later found at the help of another is replacement dogma based on the seeds of that particular belief system presented.

    And that is why I despise those wearing things such as objectivism, or environmentalism etc on their belt. Saying such things are harmless and only books flies in the face of those who are dedicated to these philosophies. Even in situations where the progenitors were revealed as complete frauds who managed to elucidate only one single, clear thought in their entire lives, people have still insisted on turning the happenstance into religions, cults, brotherhoods, movements, and so on. People will be people, no doubt.

    Anyway, when glazing over the works of philosophers such as Russell, Godel, Nietzsche, Descartes, etc - do you see them concocting rigid belief systems? I thought not. Bertrand Russell even jokes as to how one would easily herd sheep with simple grains of truth. In Ayn Rand's case, she could barely conceal the fact that her books are really a manifesto. In contrast, Orwell actually wrote books based on the merit of his ideas alone - not some cultish ism manifesto philosophy.

    Still, one asks what's wrong [geocities.com] with the objectivist system. Well, as I said in my other post, it's mostly feel-good self-fulfilling blabble. Subjectivity [deja.com] seems to be lost in all this to "objective" selfishness. It's basically a simplistic look at the complex system we call human life. Black and whites are just so conveniently manipulative. If Ayn Rand really wanted you to think for yourself, she wouldn't have built such a rigid philosophy based on interesting grains of truth, but riddled with logical fallacies. "Objectivism"? Give me a break.

    Note that my original response didn't say not to read Ayn Rand's books. It was only a warning to the possibly destructive thought systems she is trying to plant in the readers mind. Just take it with a grain of salt like one should take any other manifesto. Belief systems denying the intellectual evolution of the reader are for wussies :-).
  • by jheinen (82399) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @08:19AM (#1137431) Homepage
    FWIW, (I'm a consultant and have worked for everything from Fortune 500 companies to internet start-ups) I think smaller companies tend towards being more ethical than larger companies. Big companies usually talk a nice line about their social responsibility, but ultimately they are beholden to the stockholders and the bottom-line is paramount. Small companies, especially ones that are privately held, are more tied to an individual's conscience. They're more human.
  • by Savage Henry Matisse (94615) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @08:18AM (#1137432) Homepage
    considering that the first rocket engines (super high quality German suckers designed by none othe rthan the Edision of rocketry, Wernher von Braun [britannica.com]) were built by concentration camp slave labor. It was certainly the best product of its kind availible, so . . .
  • by Municipa (99320) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @09:17AM (#1137433)
    for $2.20 an hour. These poor illegal aliens transmit TCP/IP by hand, via telegraph and are forced to learn PHP by gunpoint. In many South American communities, slashdot is a word uttered with great fear. The 'slash' in slashdot means and entirely different thing to these people.

    If nothing else, please post responsibly people- remember there may be a human beinging grueling over the ip header of the packet containing your ill-mannered post. And no, they don't have moderator access either.

  • by SClitheroe (132403) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @08:13AM (#1137434) Homepage
    I'm not sure if your interest specifically constrained to social issues, but I'd recommend not buying Seagate. Many, many years ago, in the days of MFM hard drives, they were charged and fined for dumping toxic chemicals into a river. As a whole, the computer industry creates a lot of extremely toxic waste. Hard drive and microprocessor manufacturing both produce large volumes of highly toxic "stuff". Hopefully someone on Slashdot who knows more about how the biz handles this. It should definetly factor into any responsibly motivated purchasing decision.
  • by tylerh (137246) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @10:12AM (#1137435)
    Seeagate didn't exist until the 80's ( founded 1979, IPO ?1985?), so I presume you mean the toxic dumping done by Ceridian, but paid for by Seagate. Assuming we are discussing the same matter, let me explain.

    Ceridian was the the disk-drive subsidiary of Control Data Corp - the place where Seymour Cray got rolling( I still remember working on the 6 bit byte, 10 byte word of the CDC cyber ) Eventually, Ceridian got bought by Seagate, making Seagate liable (under Superfund laws) for Ceridian's pollution. Thus Seagate got the cleanup tab and the publicity, even though most (or all) of the dumping occurred before Seagate even existed.

    I was a Seagate shareholder at the time, and I still remember the pain 8)

  • by wholesomegrits (155981) <wholesomegrits AT mchsi DOT com> on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @11:22AM (#1137436)
    Something that often gets glossed over when talking about the tech industry is it's impact on the environment. A large part of being socially responsible is being environmentally responsible (Venn diagram guy, chime in [here] please). The fact is, tech industry turns the landscape into a filthy pit.

    In Santa Clara county alone, there are 23 EPA superfund cleanup sites -- making it one of the dirtiest counties in America, and number one in superfund in California. In South Dakota and North Dakota combined, there is one superfund site.

    As ranked by the EPA, here's the high tech contribution to the superfund sites:

    2. FAIRCHILD SEMICONDUCTOR CORP. (SOUTH SAN JOSE PLANT)
    4. SPECTRA-PHYSICS, INC.
    5. ADVANCED MICRO DEVICES, INC.
    6. NATIONAL SEMICONDUCTOR CORP
    8. TELEDYNE SEMICONDUCTOR
    11. TRW MICROWAVE, INC (BUILDING 82)
    11. INTEL MAGNETICS
    11. FAIRCHILD SEMICONDUCTOR CORP (MT VIEW)
    11. ADVANCED MICRO DEVICES, INC. (BLDG. 915)
    11. INTEL CORP. (SANTA CLARA III)
    12. HEWLETT-PACKARD (620-640 PAGE MILL ROAD)
    12. RAYTHEON CORP
    12. INTEL CORP. (MOUNTAIN VIEW PLANT

    Notice how AMD and Intel appear multiple times. They make fast chips, but they make a damn mess.

    So is the tech industry socially responsible? Not if you care about the environment.

    The Santa Clara county data was taken from Scorecard [scorecard.org].
  • At In praise of cheap labor [mit.edu], MIT Economist Paul Krugman [mit.edu] argues, "Bad jobs at bad wages are better than no jobs at all..."
  • by Shaheen (313) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @09:28AM (#1137438) Homepage
    As we all know, Bill Gates is the devil.

    However, he's certainly a generous devil. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has repeatedly received donations from Gates (and other benefactors), towards advancement in many medicinal and health fields - including hunger, cancer, and others.

    Recently, Gates has donated:

    • March, 2000 - $133 million towards people being able to receive health benefits of the advancements in pharmaceuticals
    • October, 1999 - $7.7 million towards New York State public libraries for internet access and technical training/information
    • September, 1999 - $1 billion for the Gates Millenium Scholarships to pay for 1,000 college students' tuition, room, and board


    I could go further back, but you can look it all up for yourself at New.C om [cnet.com]
  • by Ricdude (4163) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @08:08AM (#1137439) Homepage
    Keep the money local to your area, and out of the pockets of the big corporation CEOs, whenever possible. There are a few local people I buy parts from, and I've assembled all my machines from their available supplies. It costs a little more if you build something from scratch, but for upgrading it's usually a good deal. Their prices are pretty low, and if something breaks, I can yell at someone's face if I need to. Never underestimate the power of face-to-face contact when dealing with product returns.
  • by Ricdude (4163) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @08:13AM (#1137440) Homepage
    Contrary to popular belief, Microsoft is probably actualy nice to many of its employees. It is under such scrutiny that it can't
    afford not to. However, some of the less popular hardware companies (AOPen, and the other really small and unheard of ones
    that you can't find at Best Buy) probably aren't as benevolent.


    What are you smoking, and where do I get some? Really, have you already forgotten the efforts of Microsoft to abolish time and a half overtime for their hourly contract employees? When they tried to get the state of Washington to exclude "information tech" workers wholesale from that particular benefit?


    Please read a little from http://www.vcnet.com/bms/ before attempting to pass this off again.

  • by Medievalist (16032) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @09:00AM (#1137441)
    And, of course, Windows 2000 will include real-time disk defragging purchased from Diskeeper, which is one of the many Scientologist "front" organizations that contribute their earnings directly back to the mother cult.

    Novell is heavily, though only quasi-officially, involved with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - but the Mormons, unlike the Scientologists, are not considered to be dangerous criminal organizations by several nations.

    Do a search at your favorite engine for "dianetics+scientology+criminal". On Alta Vista [altavista.com], you'll get 114 web pages devoted to slamming Scientology and their practices. Look for German language sites and you'll probably find even more!

    "Social Responsibility" implies not supporting terrorists or exclusionist religions, in my book.

    --Charlie
    "I think I should GAIN karma for baiting Xians"
  • by coaxial (28297) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @11:51AM (#1137442) Homepage

    However, he's certainly a generous devil.

    Recently, Gates has donated:


    • March, 2000 - $133 million towards people being able to receive health benefits of the advancements in pharmaceuticals
    • October, 1999 - $7.7 million towards New York State public libraries for internet access and technical training/information
    • September, 1999 - $1 billion for the Gates Millenium Scholarships to pay for 1,000 college students' tuition, room, and board


    And at an estimated $85 billion [forbes.com] this means:

    • Phamaseuticals = 0.15 %
    • Libraries = 0.009 %
    • Scholarships = 1.17%


    To put this in perspective, that like me giving
    • Phamaseuticals = $75
    • Libraries = $4.50
    • Scholarships = $588


    Hardly "Giving till it hurts". Hell, lil' ol' ladies give more money to their church.
  • by hanway (28844) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @10:00AM (#1137443) Homepage
    It's old (1996) but still worth reading the response of outspoken Cypress Semi CEO T.J. Rodgers to The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia after they criticized the company for lack of minority representation on its board. Here is the link. [cypress.com]
  • by KahunaBurger (123991) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @11:22AM (#1137444)
    In my mind, a "normal buying decision" includes things like, oh, does this company exploit third-world child labor? Do they try to legally abuse their employees, or use the law to silence critics? Have I ever heard of them being entangled with violations of environmental laws - and if I did, was it a real violation, or some tin-pot beaureaucrat making political hay?

    If these are the things you think of when making your normal buying decisions, we are in perfect agreement. However, that isn't what the person I responded to said. What I quoted was :

    Make the best deal you can, for the best price that you can, and donate your 'extra' money to the charity or cause of your choice. Using the company as a social proxy is in-efficient compared to making a normal buying decision and having your personal causes a separate and distinct thing.

    This was after focusing on the job of companies being to make money and nothing else. "A normal buying decision" here is defined as paying attention only to the product and the price.

    Now in a shopping moment, I look at where something is made and if its a company I actually know something about already. I agree you can't be an expert on every company. If I was buying stock in a company, or planning to open a business that would be buying 100 computers, I would look more in depth.

    Nutshell, I agree with you pretty much, but I don't think the person I was responding to did.

    -Kahuna Burger

  • by Malor (3658) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @09:36AM (#1137445) Journal
    There's a whole lot of words up there. They can be boiled down, I think, to just three: "we don't know." Lots of opinion and bombast, but very few facts.

    Okay: we don't know, but surely SOMEONE does. Doesn't anyone have links to related info? Does the United Way have any information about computer company donations? I don't, unfortunately, have time to do the legwork today. :(

    Despite the protestations of the A/C above, claiming that any such thinking is a threat to freedom, etc. etc, this stuff matters . Much of the code you write will be thrown away -- the environmental damage you do while writing it will last forever.

    One thing we're realizing, in our search of the cosmos with the Hubble, is that planets like Earth may be impossibly rare; there might not be five planets like this in the whole Galaxy. We are probably sitting atop a treasure trove of literally Galactic proportions and using it as a toilet... in fact, we're actively painting the treasure room with feces.

    So, again, this stuff matters a lot. Pay attention. Pick this out over the background noise; most other concerns are less important, even if they are more urgent.

  • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <`ten.suomafni' `ta' `smt'> on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @08:48AM (#1137446) Homepage
    It doesnt matter.Im not going to buy a Pentium III instead of an Athlon because intel uses a less polutive fab or something.Is it fast?Stable?The epitome of PC power?Thats why I buy a product.
    Ah, nothing like short-term short-sighted thinking.

    Tell me, how much good does having the epitome of PC power do you when you're dying of cancer caused by the toxins released during fabrication of your CPU?

    I like powerful CPUs. I also like being able to breathe the atmosphere. So if manufacturer A is doing a better job of keeping his toxins to himself than manufacturer B, it's in my selfish best interest to purchase from A.

    If you don't like to think of it as "social responsibility", think of it as "long term global thinking".

  • by mr (88570) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @10:26AM (#1137447)
    A follow up on Apple:

    Apple also makes its iMac line of computers with polycarbonate plastic. This plastic contains bisphenol A.

    Apple acknologies the plastic outgasses enough for people to notice the smell.

    A list of links from 'it causes testicles to shrink' to 'everything is ok'
    http://www.wwfcanada.org/red uce-risk/questionable.html [wwfcanada.org]
    http://www.sciencedai ly.com/releases/1999/10/991021075812.htm [sciencedaily.com]
    http://www.niehs.nih.gov/oc/news/seala nt.htm [nih.gov]
    http://www.doh.gov.uk/hef/bisphena.htm [doh.gov.uk]
    The Pro BPA page telling you everything is Ok, nothign to see here...http://www.bisphenol-a.org/ [bisphenol-a.org]

    Now the question:
    Is it socially responsible to
    1) be making this kind of machine covering
    2) have these computers in schools, where endocrine disruption has more of an effect.

    Keep in mind that the Good Design (tm) award given out in Japan was NOT given to the iMac. Why? Because of the use of bisphenol-A. (this is how I found out in fact....)
  • by mr (88570) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @08:14AM (#1137448)
    Depends on the metrics you use.

    Apple has had issues in the past WRT the number of african americans in management

    Here on /., Micro$oft is disliked for the quality of the code they sell. (think if the stuff worked.)

    Digital (now part of Compaq) is rarely given credit for their creation and then NOT getting patents on the citrus replacement for freon solvents.

    And Ray Norda gets no credit for his settling the BSD/AT&T lawsuit. (a social issue of importance to the BSD community/OpenSource software)

    The simplest metric would be to get the finationals from the companies and see what they list as charties, then do a %age. But what is important to you, say a greenpeace donation, is not important to others (say replacing freon)
  • by KahunaBurger (123991) on Wednesday April 12, 2000 @09:47AM (#1137449)
    Make the best deal you can, for the best price that you can, and donate your 'extra' money to the charity or cause of your choice. Using the company as a social proxy is in-efficient compared to making a normal buying decision and having your personal causes a separate and distinct thing.

    Hey, that gives me a great idea! If I started working as a pimp for underage crack whores, I would make a lot more money and could finally have enough disposable cash to donate to the Home for Little Wanderers!

    Ehem. To talk about keeping your personal causes (what we sometimes call "ethics") a "seperate and distinct thing" indicates that you may not understand why the poster was asking the question. As a person who also cares about social justice, i can tell you that part of it is personally making an impact, and another just as important part is living your life in an ethical fashion. Part of that, for me, is trying not to participate in injustice.

    To put it in simple terms, if a businessman was murdered right in front of you, then the murderer turned to you and said "hey, I don't really want to fence this rolex, You wanna buy it for 10 bucks?" Would you feel ethically comfortable about getting a deal under those circumstances? If not, why should someone who cares about human rights feel comfortable buying a less expensive keyboard that is cheap because of the use of slave labor?

    So no, you can't always just buy whatever's cheap then use the money you save to be nice, anymore than I could run a slave brothel and give the money to charity. Everything you do is a choice, and some of us try to make ethical choices part of our daily life, not just a once a year check.

    PS I consider part of the job of every human being to be acting decently. Corporate officers who can't do that part of their job won't get my money for the rest of it.

    -Kahuna Burger

  • Contrary to popular belief, Microsoft is probably actualy nice to many of its employees. It is under such scrutiny that it can't afford not to. However, some of the less popular hardware companies (AOPen, and the other really small and unheard of ones that you can't find at Best Buy) probably aren't as benevolent.

    As software programmers go, they have to be nice or they'll all leave, due to the fact that the demand for software programmers is higher than the supply.

    The point being, overseas labor allows you to disregard your employees more than if the labor was here. Also, the jobs that require a computer are also going to require an employer to be more benevolent. Oddly enough, there are probably more problems with Asian physical labor than American programming jobs. How would you like to spend all day lining up the same two pins on a resistor to the same two holes on your board. How would you like to spend all week at it? Aren't you glad you get to use a computer at work/school?

    "Assume the worst about people, and you'll generally be correct"

"Our vision is to speed up time, eventually eliminating it." -- Alex Schure

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