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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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @11:25PM (#39055441)

    I work in China. It is worth noting that some of the conditions at Foxconn, while terrible by Western standards, are normal here.

    A Chinese friend worked as a waitress. She thought $400 a month (in a culture where there are no tips) was excellent money. Most meals and a bunk in a shared apartment provided. No heat, at a latitude where frost is moderately common.

    In at 9 am to do cleaning, work until after lunch, sleep in the afternoon, start again at 4:30 and work until closing which was usually about 11 but if customers wanted to stay later, some waitresses would have to stay until 2 or 3. No extra money for that. She got two days a month off, and thought that was generous, but a "day off" meant coming in at 4:30 instead of in the morning.

  • by Stormthirst (66538) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @11:25PM (#39055443)

    This is a topic that goes around on ./ every now and then.

    When all the manufacturing etc is done by robots - surely the entire capitalist system will crash. The inherent nature of capitalism is to have a triangle - the wide base with people doing low paid jobs, the people who go to university and get a good education to get well paid jobs in the middle, and the 1%ers at the top.

    If you start messing with that triangle, won't the whole thing collapse?

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting there's anything inherently wrong with this system (buggy whip manufacturers etc) - but ...?

  • Re:Silence is golden (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dxkelly (11295) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @11:27PM (#39055453) Homepage

    That doesn't excuse it. If slavery is required to make cell phones at a reasonable price then we'll have to do without.
    "I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth will starve in the process." -- Benjamin Harrison 23rd President

  • Re:Silence is golden (Score:5, Interesting)

    by icebraining (1313345) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @12:00AM (#39055703) Homepage

    Except that alternative is worse for the workers, who already have the option of not working at those factories and, funnily enough, they don't actually prefer it.

    Your solution helps your moral guilty at their expense. For shame.

    http://web.mit.edu/krugman/www/smokey.html [mit.edu]

  • Re:DIY/Relativity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, 2012 @12:56AM (#39056149)

    You don't need unlimited time or money, you need to be well organized, know your needs precisely and be willing to learn and work hard.

    I run a small artisan bakery, and I not only build the shop from scratch, but I have also made all the equipment I need myself - including mixers, a rather hi-tech production line including a kneeder, dough laminator, rather complex dough proofer, shaper with corresponding loaders. I myself manage to produce about 500-600 items for about half a day, most of it long-rise bread. My ovens even report stuff on Twitter for my customers.

    Not only is everything DIY (including the cast aluminium boxes for the electronics), it is also cheaper than any alternative with similar capabilities and capacity I've been able to source. And it was all made in my backyard, with hand tools from recycled materials over a year, including the learning. I had never touched a shovel, a saw, a router, a milling machine or a soldering iron before that.

    If you want, you can do it, the problem is everyone wants to be a manager, and nobody wants to do the hard work.

  • Re:Really? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, 2012 @02:03AM (#39056499)

    There is a game about this, they show how every step of the process is horrible. You can get it on http://www.phonestory.org/ [phonestory.org], they have both Android and iPhone versions (you can't get the iPhone version anymore as Apple banned it for, amongst other reasons "15.2 Apps that depict violence or abuse of children will be rejected "). Also, no it isn't ironic that it's made for disposable phones as that's exactly the public they want to reach.

  • Re:Silence is golden (Score:3, Interesting)

    by artor3 (1344997) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @02:08AM (#39056531)

    The 5% I mentioned was not a guess at all. We had a /. article on how little money goes into Chinese manufacturing a while back. Here's the link to the slashdot story [slashdot.org] and here's a direct link to the article [forbes.com].

    It shows that Chinese labor costs only make up about 2% of the cost of the iPad. We could triple their salaries and have prices rise by only around 5%. Obviously it would vary by device, but no way would it be 50%.

  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geogob (569250) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @04:02AM (#39057069)

    Is it really that misguided? I wanted to mod you down, but on second thought your comment really is insightful... I just don't agree with it.

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

    What kind of logic is that? That goes in the same bucket as "If you don't like how it is, make it yourself"... It's also like saying if you are bothered by how animals are handled by *some* producers, why don't you become vegetarian.
    With food, just like with electronics devices, there are ways to consume while reducing your negative footprint. With food, it gets always easier to do so - no so much with electronics.

    ...simply go without the toy.

    Toys, really? I don't know how you live or what you do for a living, but there is no way I could work or live in 2012 without consuming electronic products.

    But it the end, I think what will happen here is the same thing as with what happens when people try to consume animals products only coming from animals treated in the best conditions... most are not ready to pay the price.

  • Re:Really? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by xtracto (837672) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @06:02AM (#39057543) Journal

    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.

    Typical slashdot exageration and way to completely miss the point. Given that GP only wrote:

    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.

    If you look at programs such as Fair-trade you will see that the idea is increaes the quality of living for those workers in the developping countries. It means paying *them* a better wage for their labour. It does not (directly) mean getting the same manufacturing labour back to developped countries (like USA).

    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.

    I wonder then, why several persons [wikipedia.org] wanted out of their great dream.

    I understand your general point, living conditions for people working in manufacturing can be better than those living in rural areas. That is true to a certain degree, but it is also true that the living conditions of people in manufacturing are *still* terrible.

    If consumers starting giving preference (with their money) to "fair trade" electronics, they would benefit those sweatshop workers and indirectly they would benefit *their own* economies, as local companies would be able to compete in price once again.

    What GP was saying is that currently there is *no real option*. So as someone put it before, the only option is to avoid buying those electronics. The problem with that approach is that the only statement people achieve is saying "I do not like your product", whereas if there was a "fair trade" option, people could choose to buy that to "state" that "I want products that are produced in fair conditions".

     

  • Re:Really? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice&gmail,com> on Thursday February 16, 2012 @07:19AM (#39057855)

    Let's not forget that it's was the original unions that wanted cottage industries to continue, with the poor practices, the child labour and terrible conditions included - or do you conveniently forget about the acts of destruction gangs of workers carried out against new dangled technologies? The engines destroyed in shipping, the factories burned to the ground (to the point where in England factories started to be built with no flammable material in the structure at all), farming machines destroyed in the night (to the point where farmers were told that they should leave the machines out in the open at night, otherwise they would lose their barns and homes as well).

    If you open your eyes enough, both sides have a terrible history.

  • Re:Really? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by scamper_22 (1073470) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @12:28PM (#39061451)

    No one has ever really given it a second thought.

    Most people who claim to 'care' tend to be from a very colonial mentality. It's the same mentality Europeans used to have in relation to their colonies.

    Never is this more exemplified than in food production. I live in Ontario, Canada. Land of big labor unions. Do you know which group of workers are actually legally prohibited from unionization?

    You betcha, the most vulnerable, at risk, exploited workers... farm workers.

    Why do you suppose this is? Because it is in reality a very colonial attitude that farm workers should not be 'western' workers. That is for lesser beings.

    Even in the 'glory' days of big union. Why is it that you think an auto-worker was earning 80K/year while farm workers struggled in the hot sun for hours on end providing the very food we eat?

    Most societies have never been willing to pay the true cost of labor for its workers. At best, it makes laws that drive the hard jobs overseas or into migrant labor.

    Even in the days of big union, they only focused on a few fields. The auto worker only felt well off because there was a poor non-unionized waitress ready to serve them. Or they could take a vacation and travel to a third world country and take advantage of their cheap labor. How many civilized good labor law Europeans travel to Asia or North Africa to take advantage of the cheap labor... (and cheap women).

    This doesn't even get into the odd realm realm that going for the cheapest labor provides the most needy with the jobs they actually need. There were several studies that showed that when they banned child labor... for example in Bangladesh... it's not like this actually the kids... it just forced them into more poverty and increasingly prostitution. And cheap goods means other poor people can actually get those good cheaply as well.

    Considering money at the end of the day is just us exchanging our own labor, it's typically very hard to really come up with the idea of a 'living wage'. Pay farm workers a living wage and the price of food jumps... and then you want a bigger living wage. Most of what we *need* is just buying labor for each other... typically from the poorest in society. Even things like housing... it's more about competing with your neighbor for the hot location.

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