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Ask Slashdot: Tech Manufacturers With Better Labor Practices? 375

Posted by samzenpus
from the best-of-the-worst dept.
First time accepted submitter srs5694 writes "In light of the recent flood of stories about abysmal labor practices at Foxconn and other Chinese factories that produce most of the tech products we consume, the question arises: Who makes motherboards, plug-in cards, cell phones, and other devices WITHOUT relying on labor practices that are just one rung above slave labor? If I want to buy a new tech gadget, from whom can I buy it without ethical qualms?"
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Ask Slashdot: Tech Manufacturers With Better Labor Practices?

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  • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki@gmai l . c om> on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @11:14PM (#39055351) Homepage

    Probably no one these days. Either components, or parts are made in china in some form or another. Even down to the base layer PCB. Though it's getting even worse than that, China is getting too "expensive" to operate in. And they're moving out to other 3rd world countries.

  • by jehan60188 (2535020) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @11:16PM (#39055375)
    There's no such thing. Corporations aren't in the business of creating products in an ethical manner. They're in the business of making money by using the cheapest parts and labor possible.. If they could employ slaves, and get away with it, they would.
  • Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Compaqt (1758360) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @11:20PM (#39055399) Homepage

    This is about as useful as asking who doesn't rely on semi-slave labor practices during the industrialization phase of the UK or US (no vacations, Pinkerton detective agency, strikebreaking, pittance wages, etc.).

    Look, this phase is messy, but necessary.

    They can't just start out with a "services" economy all styling each others' hair.

    They have to go through this phase, and it's certainly a step up from the near-starvation they had in the countryside. Then wages go up, slowly, but surely. Before you know it, Chinese will be asking about organic certification before they deign to go to work for a company.

  • No slaves please. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @11:27PM (#39055457)

    Sorry, corporate overlord here. Slaves require room, board, clothes, etc. provided for them. It doesn't come free. It's much much better now underpaying non-slaves, as people line up to replace them.

    Keep complaining though, but make sure not to change your lifestyle at all. Because that works.

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @11:47PM (#39055607)

    university does not = job skills tech needs apprenticeship for lot's of IT jobs and not just CS. No we need more tech school. Lot's of people are going to university not learning what they need to do a job and end up working at McDonalds or walmart with big loans to pay back.

  • Re:Really? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by sakdoctor (1087155) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @11:51PM (#39055635) Homepage

    This question is so misguided, and will only end in hypocrisy.
    If it really bothers the poster that much, simply go without the toy.

  • by Freddybear (1805256) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @12:07AM (#39055775)

    "Fair labor practices are not something that takes care of itself via an Invisible Hand, be it that of Capitalism or of God."

    Yes, actually, they do improve as a result of market conditions (the so-called invisible hand), when employers have to compete for workers in the marketplace. When there is a glut of labor applying for a few factory jobs, then yes, wages will be low and conditions will be poor. But then more manufacturers will build factories to take advantage of that cheap labor and the supply/demand situation will shift in favor of the workers.
    That is exactly what the "invisible hand" is about.

  • Re:Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cayenne8 (626475) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @12:14AM (#39055821) Homepage Journal
    I think the larger question is, does.much of anyone in the first world even really give it a second thought?

    Isn't this the.price they pay for.taking these.jobs.from us where it used to be done for a.living wage and fair.working conditions?

  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cruciform (42896) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @12:29AM (#39055947) Homepage

    That's a little naive. Fair living wages and working conditions are fairly recent. Don't you follow history?
    Business moved where business could continue to work as it has for time immemorial.

  • by zedrdave (1978512) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @12:39AM (#39056033)
    Valid assumption, wrong conclusion.

    Corporations are in the business of making money... and they have long realised one way of doing that was betting on upper-middle-class consumer guilt to pay a premium in exchange for some sort of vaguely-enforced "ethical business" seal-of-approval. It's a niche market, but a market nonetheless.

    Just look at Whole Foods' CEO [wikipedia.org]: not exactly the hippy-dippy type, just a guy who realised there was a market to tap, and tap he did. Call it cynical (it definitely is), but some corporations will behave ethically, just as long as they can make a profit out of it.
  • by geminidomino (614729) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @12:50AM (#39056111) Journal

    there are ways to produce goods without any of these things. the most productive nation on earth in the 20th century was the united states

    And it got that way by being the United States in the 19th century. Crack a history book.

  • by drnb (2434720) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @01:04AM (#39056191)

    There's no such thing. Corporations aren't in the business of creating products in an ethical manner. They're in the business of making money by using the cheapest parts and labor possible.

    Emphasize "possible". "Possible" includes behavior acceptable to consumers.

    Sweat shops and outsourcing are driven by consumer preferences. Namely the consumer's preference for the absolute lowest price regardless of all other considerations. It is a classic tragedy of the commons situation.

    Corporate greed does *not* inevitably lead to sweat shops and outsourcing. Of primary importance to corporations are sales, and sales are determined by consumers. Outsourcing and sweat shops are only possible if there is consumer indifference, if employing such methods will offend customers and result in lost sales then the "greed" motivation says do not employ such methods.

    Corporate greed actually inevitably leads to satisfying consume demands at the lowest possible cost *and* consistent with consumer expectations. Consumers are actually in control of the methods employed by corporations.

  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by M. Baranczak (726671) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @01:45AM (#39056393)

    If it really bothers the poster that much, simply go without the toy.

    Well, obviously it doesn't bother you, but it does bother me.

    And I have no problem going without the latest pocket-sized Facebook/Google/AngryBirds appliance. The hard part is going without shoes.

    I'm not rich, but I have no objection to paying a little extra for stuff that's not made by indentured servants. But most of the time I don't even get that choice.

  • by AdamWill (604569) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @02:02AM (#39056485) Homepage

    I've replied to it before on slashdot, but no, that's a fallacy.

    There isn't some magic limited quality of labor that needs to be done, and once we replace all of that with robots, there'll be no work left for people to do any more. That fallacy has existed for hundreds of years. It never quite seems to happen, yet people persist with the belief.

    Couple hundred years ago, it was cotton weaving - see, hundreds of thousands of people used to work weaving cotton, then machines got invented that could perform the job much more efficiently. Surely this would result in there not being enough work for all those people! oh no!

    Well, in a very short timeframe that can happen, but over the long run it just doesn't work out that way. Why? We just keep inventing more work to do. There's no objective definition of 'work'. It's whatever you can get paid to do. Back in the age of manual cotton weaving, for instance, almost no-one made a living in the 'creative industries', which barely existed. Nowadays, tens of thousands of people make a good wage producing utterly unnecessary and frivolous TV shows. The key point is _there's a direct link between the two things_. Automate things that at present take hundreds of thousands of humans to do, and those hundreds of thousands of humans won't - over the long run - starve to death. We'll invent new stuff for them to do. That 'stuff' is frequently frivolous and entirely unnecessary - like television, or advertising, or professional sports, or pet grooming, or personal shopping...the reason all those ridiculous 'jobs' exist is _precisely_ because we've got so good at making the really essential tasks - farming, construction, health care, clothes manufacture, resource extraction, power generation etc - happen very efficiently that, once all of the above tasks are done for everyone in a reasonably developed country, there's still a *massive* potential labor surplus. Via the magic of the free market economy, instead of rationing all the essential labor and the results of that labor out equally so everyone works 5 hours a week and we all live a comfortable life by the standards of 1850, we instead invented a bewildering array of utterly unnecessary 'work' so most people can continue to 'work' 40 hours a week, and be rewarded with the opportunity to buy a crystal-encrufted cellphone, buy a shirt for their dog, and watch 2.5 Men on an HDTV. Ain't humanity great?

    This process can continue more or less indefinitely if we want it to. I see no particular limit to human ingenuity in inventing ridiculous new spheres of activity.

  • Re:Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @02:22AM (#39056597) Journal

    Though let's not forget, it was this flagrant abuse that forced us. To say enough was enough, and ensure there were working standards, end child slaveshops and all the rest too. Though it went on for a long time before anything changed.

    Let's not forget to give the unions credit for ending the abusives labor practices of the last century.

    Without continuously enforcing the labor laws we have, businesses would go back to their old ways in a heartbeat
    because there is always someone willing to take your place for longer hours and less pay.

  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot AT worf DOT net> on Thursday February 16, 2012 @03:14AM (#39056845)

    It goes a lot deeper than just the components. It goes down to the minerals and metals that make up those components:

    The hard part though for raw materials like coltan is that stuff is recycled a LOT. A lot is mined, but these days, a lot is recycled.

    There's only like 11 smelters worldwide that handle coltan, and various industry groups have actually talked to those smelters to buy "conflict-free" minerals, which all have actually agreed too.

    That's good, as no new conflict minerals are entering the system (at least without someone going rogue or conflict minerals with forged paperwork). However, a complete ban isn't possible because an increasing amount comes from recycling, and there's no paperwork anymore. If you want to ban conflict minerals, basically the entire recycling chain must be thrown away because it's impossible to differentiate and the only way is to assume the entire chain is contaminated.

  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sir_Sri (199544) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @03:24AM (#39056897)

    So wait, you'd rather people in china go back to being subsistence farmers with a 44 year life expectancy (that was by the way, 1960), with no education, so you can feel good about giving extra money to your neighbour who's going to go out and spend more on lunch than someone in china would have made in a week? That's the argument against what is happening in china today.

    China is in transition. There is a huge swath of people, basically 3 or 4 lost generations of people, and another 1 or 2 in the pipeline who are the transition from destitute subsistence farmers who literally never had anything, to a society of people who have little things like antibiotics, and electricity. Unfortunately, they're lost. They're not savable by any laws rules, treaties or procedures. Nothing. And there are hundreds of millions of them, which makes them worth next to nothing. A million workers at foxconn go on strike? No problem, shut down the facility and move somewhere else, and hire a million others, or let foxconn go out of business and someone else will emerge. Because they have generations of people who have nothing else they can do but repetitive manual labour. Chinas literacy rate in 1950 was 20% (http://www.nytimes.com/2001/02/12/news/12iht-rchina.t.html?pagewanted=all) Today it's still only about 88%.

    Believe it or not, all these exploited workers in china are living the great dream. That their children and childrens children won't have to go through this. But they are condemned to lives of either being peasant farmers who could never read, write or get any actual health care, or being underpaid overworked factory workers. The only thing we can do for them is give them jobs, and we can only give them money based on the fact that they're basically doing the work of robots.

    Remember, there are still 2.7 billion people living on less than 2 dollars a day, and 1.1 billion on less than a dollar (worldwide). http://library.thinkquest.org/05aug/00282/over_world.htm . That's slightly out of date, but it conveys the point. Foxconn's wages are about 300 dollars a month, or about 10 dollars a day (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/08/business/global/08wages.html). Comparatively, people working at foxconn at 10 dollars a day, are doing *extremely* well compared to the lives they would have had 40 years earlier.

    In the west we don't really think about the cost of basic things. Workers at foxconn have access to a diverse diet, which, by the way, is actually pretty tough to get on 2 dollars a day. They have generally clean water, again, not something they would have had as starving peasants. Oh, and they aren't starving. They, and their children will be able to read and write. They have electricity, which again, is a pretty radical concept.

    The only way billions of *people* in the world are going to get out of illiterate starving and dying to preventable diseases, is if we give them jobs, preferably for honest work. That might be making your shoes, and that might be snapping together an iPod. But you can't just go and pay someone in china 10 dollars and hour for a job someone else will do for 2, it's has devastating cascading effect through society, and frankly, for 10 dollars an hour, it would be cheaper to pay a robot than a foxconn worker. They're better to get the 2 dollars an hour or 1.25 or whatever it is, than to get nothing. Because without money they can't build anything to improve their society with, which is why they (along with a lot of other places) are so far behind, and that china has realized this is why they're growing at a break neck rate and fixing it.

    As a grad student, I make about 20k a year (I'm sort of half game developer half grad student, but one is part of the other). I am, by canadian measures barely above the poverty line once you take out my tuition. That's still more money in 1 year that about half the people in the world will make in their lifetimes.

    Yes, china has unfair currency practices which (significantly) undervalue their currency, and

  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rockoon (1252108) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @04:37AM (#39057207)
    No matter how many times you call it exploitation, that doesn't make it so. These people want a better life, which is why they work in factories. Just like Americans did. Just like the English did. Just like the Germans did. Just like the French did. Just like the Japanese did. Just like the Taiwanese did. Just like the Australians did. Just like the Canadians did.

    You are filthy rich in comparison to the rest of the world, but you are so spoiled that you don't even know it. The Chinese people cannot have your life until their country is comparatively rich. Their country cannot become comparatively rich until the majority of the population is involved in wealth creation. Thats a straight up fact and no matter how many times you claim bullshit like "exploitation", you cannot change the facts.

    Yes, we all understand that you feel so strongly for the plight of others that you feel the need to say something, *anything*, as some sort of make-you-feel-good-inside moral protest. Your problem is that your thinking is so shallow that all you are doing is appealing to emotion. There is no logic in your protest. There are no facts in your protest. Its just a protest for protests sake, and for that you should be ashamed of yourself. How shallow, petty, and spoiled you are.
  • Re:Really? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Trogre (513942) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @04:41AM (#39057219) Homepage

    Wait, so you're saying we should treat China as a charity case? Really? Perhaps you're not aware of China's government and their ridiculously massive military budget. Do you really want to keep feeding that beast? How long until they stop trading with other countries for raw materials (minerals and food alike) and just march in and take them?

    You do realise that no matter what country you invest in there's always dozens of others that miss out - the opportunity cost. Do you worry about the impoverished people in India, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Peru or heaven forbid Mexico? Why favour just one country? China has their own economy - let them sort it out, even if it takes a revolution. The current model is just not sustainable.

    You've written a lot but I'm not sure you've really thought this through - once all manufacturing jobs are outsourced to China what do you think is going to happen to your economy? Where is Mr Social Safety Net going to find his next job once his town's plant closes down? The jobs simply are not, and will not be there.

    Stop buying Chinese made. Now.

  • Re:Really? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, 2012 @04:59AM (#39057309)

    The only way billions of *people* in the world are going to get out of illiterate starving and dying to preventable diseases, is if we give them jobs

    Really, that's the only way??
    How conditioned we all are that only money, that divine paper, is the one and true savior of all mankind.
    I do agree with you if we aren't allowed to think out of the box, that box that defines our borders. (Did you define your own box, or had it defined for you??)

    There are more examples in sci-fi than I can come up with of ways we can do it all better, at the moment the population in general is way to selfish to make anything other than capitalism work. (that general population includes me to) However, while capitalism reigns, that won't change anytime soon.

    So, you want to put your mouth behind the capitalist solution, one that for sure will keep us away from that future society we could be, that society you dreamed about when you were younger, or maybe you still dream about it now? Excuse me when I'm not standing in line next to you, cheering the slave workers along, a few more decades and your free! Free to work in better conditions for another master of puppets.

  • Re:Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Rennt (582550) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @10:04AM (#39058955)

    There is nothing wrong with appealing to emotion in the face of the kind of unfeeling, self-serving rationalization that passes off human suffering as progress.

    Yes, there is cheap labor to be had in China. And yes, both sides in the trade can benefit from that imbalance. You'll get no argument from me there. We get cheap products, they grow their economy. Everybody wins.

    But what we are seeing is not mutual capitalization of this economic imbalance. If it was, Chinese factory workers would be working ~8 hour days and earning the local equivalent of a living wage. What we ARE seeing some of the most profitable corporations in history writing off human and environmental damage on a massive scale as externalities.

    But thanks for the emotionally manipulative ad hominem attacks. The hypocrisy is staggering.

  • Re:Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sir_Sri (199544) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @12:45PM (#39061759)

    Um... they tried the sci fi solutions of wonderful fantasy land and 30 million people starved to death under mao.

    It's not charity. We do that to africa and we simply exacerbate the problem. If you just give people aid you drive prices down and make it hard for them to compete (I mean general aid, not specific disaster relief). It's giving them a fair chance. And it's not some divine paper, in fact I was quite clear on what they're getting in exchange. Clean water, electricity, food, housing that isn't dirt and logs, and eventually, stuff.

    There really is no other way. We can't just give them money, and while we can give them some of the 'stuff' (power generators for example), they need to be able to pay for their use, have staff to be paid to run them, we can't possible match the scale required.

    I'm not sure what dream you're talking about. As a kid (and even now as an adult) I want stuff. A house, a car, computer, food, clothes. I want to be able to retire eventually. I'm only going to get those things by exchanging my labour for them, and we use money as a unit of exchange between the two. It's not that complicated a concept, and it provides the granularity '3 chickens and rack of ribs for my vaccinations' lacks. I'm going to guess that people in china may want slightly different stuff, or they set the bar lower than 'a car' and maybe on clean drinking water. But that's how the world works.

    I said, and it is depressing, there are generations (or at least major portions of generations) of people in china who basically lack the skills to do anything else. In 1980 1 in 5 people in china couldn't read or write. Consider that in north america something like 70% of people have a post secondary education of somesort, and in china you have 20% of people who didn't manage to get to grade 2 or equivalent. They *need* to be able to educate their children (and they are, and have done that), but they have millions of people who are a long way from being able to do anything in a 'knowledge economy'. They are also about 30 years away from having a workforce that is effectively 100% literate (which is the literacy rate for under 24's now), and as that shifts they will be able to do more and more. But right now, for some people, manual labour is as good as it gets.

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