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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&gmail,com> on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:14PM (#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.

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Informative)

      by actionbastard (1206160) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @11:39PM (#39056035)
      It goes a lot deeper than just the components. It goes down to the minerals and metals that make up those components:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coltan#Ethics_of_Coltan_mining_in_the_Democratic_Republic_of_Congo [wikipedia.org]

      http://sitemaker.umich.edu/section002group3/coltan_mining_in_democratic_republic_of_the_congo [umich.edu]

      Apple gets the spotlight thrown on it because of its popular following. But every company that makes anything electronic or that contains electronic components is just as culpable.
      • Re:Really? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, 2012 @01:03AM (#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:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tlhIngan (30335) <.slashdot. .at. .worf.net.> on Thursday February 16, 2012 @02:14AM (#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.

    • Nokia used to make a lot of components in Finland, Romania etc. but after recent troubles, closed down the factories and moved to Asia.

      Making of N9 Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqxYiXtzKd0&feature=player_embedded [youtube.com]

  • me! (Score:5, Funny)

    by retchdog (1319261) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:15PM (#39055355) Journal

    we offer a full line of consumer and professional electronics, athletic apparel, and soy products, all officially certified by the retchdog institute for unicorns and sunshine to be completely free of whatever it is you find objectionable. our modest markup of 1200% is necessary to ensure that only the finest managers, assistant managers, and assistants to assistant managers are hired from a competitive field of my friends and extended family.

  • No one. Seriously. I don't think you can even make certain all the components of an OpenMoko device are clear of your standards.
  • by jehan60188 (2535020) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:16PM (#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.
    • No slaves please. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:27PM (#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 geekoid (135745)

        um, no.
        You might want to look at the history of corporate behavior in unregulated/low regulated societies through out all of history.

        I deal, they pay for boarding and good. Or force a company store; which is the same thing as slavery.

        Slave doesn't equate to no pay. Slaves can get paid, but then be forced to pay their employer room and board, and force them to use the company store.

    • by Nursie (632944)

      It doesn't mean there can't be.

      Firstly, the people within Corporations could stop acting like frakking arseholes all the time, and have some principles. And no, I don't care about the principles of capitalism, the people in charge absolutely can and should be blamed for being amoral bastards.

      Secondly, and we already see this in some arenas, consumers can start spending their money only with corporations they consider ethically sound. The effect of this would be that in order to slavishly follow the maximum

    • by zedrdave (1978512) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @11:39PM (#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 drnb (2434720) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @12:04AM (#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.

  • From whom can I buy? (Score:4, Informative)

    by c0lo (1497653) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:16PM (#39055379)
    • by mirix (1649853)

      The ICs are still almost entirely made in the third world. Even when the dies are made somewhere with standards, they're usually packaged somewhere poorer.

      But then you can go further. Some poor bastard mined the tin and copper for the leads. Another processed the ore to raw metal, another stamped the sheet metal. Someone made chemicals for processing the ore, and making the epoxy. Someone trucked that stuff to the packaging facility. Chances are most of those people were working in pretty shitty conditions

  • Money talks, and we're all guilty in this rat race to the bottom for the lowest cost. When robotics and automation get good enough, even Foxconn exploited workers will be out of work. We're in the middle of a transition to full or almost fully robotic manufacturing, give it a few years, no one will have a job expect robot builders and service men to maintain them.
    • by Stormthirst (66538) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:25PM (#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 ...?

      • 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.

      • by moortak (1273582)
        When technological changes occur faster in an economy than social changes you end up with massive social disorder. That was the whole issue with the Luddites. Their way of life was being changed by new technology faster than the social structures were changing. People reacted violently. In time social structures and people's views caught up with where the economy had moved and things settled down into a new pattern for a while. We may be due for another rough transition.
      • No, the triangle works against the free market by consolidating power into the hands of a few people who are then able to control the market. In reality the free market would work better if everyone were on a more equal footing, since it requires people have the ability to negotiate a fair price for themselves. Not that I believe that will happen, but it's important to understand that the people who oppose that are actually opposing the free market.

      • by AdamWill (604569) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @01:02AM (#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.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Uh huh. Have you ever wondered why the majority of people in North America (and not a small majority) work in the service industry, and only work 40 or so hours a week, when their ancestors had to work more or less constantly at food production just to eat?

      Increased mechanization means only that we'll work less and/or more of us will do luxury or useless jobs.

  • Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Compaqt (1758360) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:20PM (#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.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      it has never been necessary. there is nothing about the manufacture of electronics, or anything else, that requires

      1. not paying wages
      2. raping employees
      3. dumping toxic waste into drinking water
      4. 80 hour work weeks

      etc etc etc. 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 was largely unionized labor with labor rights and relatively high wages. the only people who think 'slavery = prodcutivity' are people w

      • by geminidomino (614729) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @11:50PM (#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.

      • He's not suggesting that it is necessary from a manufacturing point of view. He's claiming it is a necessary stage from a developmental point of view, ie that there is no other (or at least no better) way of transitioning from a largely pre-industrial/agrarian society.

        What are China's other options? It is tempting to view this from a western perspective and see it as some sort of "race to the bottom". From a chinese perspective that wouldn't be the case as they are seeing massive reductions in poverty.
  • by jdogalt (961241) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:20PM (#39055403) Journal

    Fair labor practices are not something that takes care of itself via an Invisible Hand, be it that of Capitalism or of God. So long as the playing field tells the players that they can outsource slave labor, or even just significantly unfair labor (folks with nothing like 1st ammendment rights), then all players that chose not to do so will quickly lose and cease to exist. The only way to solve the problem (that I'm thinking of right now in full on rhetoric mode) is to have better national standards of who we do business with in the global international trade community. Put standards in place, and make it profitable for international actors to meet the improved standards. But as can be evidenced by opening your eyes in the morning and looking at the world, there will be a lot of political pressure against that path. But hopefully one day the incessant light - fueled by real freedom of speech and the press- shining on exploitive employers/slavers, will cause things to move in the right direction. I hope.

    • by Freddybear (1805256) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @11:07PM (#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.

      • by jdogalt (961241)

        I mentioned Invisible Hand, because, yes, I am versed in the theory, though some of the more important writings I may have most recently read 20 years ago in college. Without much certainty, I suspect that if I reviewed the classic texts, that I'd find most express what you expressed, though squarely in the realm where the various actors you mention, are all playing on a level capitalistic/legal field. When you start talking about international trade with key players that still call themselves communist,

    • ... The only way to solve the problem (that I'm thinking of right now in full on rhetoric mode) is to have better national standards of who we do business with in the global international trade community. Put standards in place, and make it profitable for international actors to meet the improved standards. But as can be evidenced by opening your eyes in the morning and looking at the world, there will be a lot of political pressure against that path ...

      Yes and no. Your logic is flawed because it is government based, based on political pressure. The true solution is to have a consumer based solution, to leverage corporate greed. To have consumers make conscious decisions to pick products more inline with their ideals rather than whatever has the lowest price tag. Corporate greed seeks sales not lowest cost production. Low cost production does no good if consumers reject your products to do your production methods.

      I looked at two full HD resolution comp

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:25PM (#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.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They are opening a new plant in a less prosperous area. Salaries are going up as a result.
      http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90778/90860/7122397.html
      (People's Daily is a Party organ, some skepticism is required)

      And there are long queues for the jobs:
      http://www.itproportal.com/2012/02/01/despite-hash-conditions-thousands-line-up-to-get-a-job-at-foxconn/

    • by jginspace (678908)

      Most meals and a bunk in a shared apartment provided. No heat, at a latitude where frost is moderately common.

      I'm not asking to be modded down and i'm not trying to be all Monty Python but ... if these bunks are arranged really spaciously they might need heating - depends on the latitude. If they're arranged anything like the standard for employee accommodation then body heat will take care of it. So which to choose? Just how bad is it?

      Let's hear some balanced accounts of conditions in these places. As you said, your friend thought this was a decent job.

    • by afabbro (33948)

      She thought $400 a month (in a culture where there are no tips) was excellent money.

      I don't know why people always quote things in dollars-per-month. That is meaningless. When I was in Russia in the late 90s, bus fare was less than 5 cents in the city I was in. At the same time it was $2 in the U.S. I took a family of 8 out to dinner with four courses, vodka, champagne, the works - $25. That would have been $200 in the U.S. Of course, the head of household was only making $300/month - but what did his $300 equate to? Hard to say, given the difference in socialization, piracy, etc.

      • by Sneeka2 (782894)

        This!

        I work in Japan and am making twice the money I made last time I worked in Europe, but a disproportionally large part of it goes down the drain for housing and food. I am not buying any more or less gadgets at the end than I did back then, even though I live in roughly the same conditions (arguably worse housing actually) and get more money.

        The waitress gets RMB2500 (or thereabouts), not US$400.

  • I recently bought a laptop from System76. I know they at least assemble their stuff in Americuh. And they support teh linux too, so thats cool.

  • by Renderer of Evil (604742) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:28PM (#39055469) Homepage

    I have this hookup in Napa Valley which supplies me with free-range electronics. It comes from a commune where they manufacture phones and laptops using sustainable, cruelty-free paleo techniques. Their R&D division is an ayuhuasca hut.

  • Someone with very high prices. (Or you could do without...)

  • on an airline.
    As a country we aren't willing to pay extra for good service on an airline - it is all about who has the lowest fair on expedia/priceline/... not which brand has good customer service. As a country we are not willing to pay for extras like good customer service, quality, or good business practices. Anyone old enough when the big selling point of walmart was "Made in America"? It was great - walmart was great - jobs were great... Then it was time to lower prices - either by breaking the lab
    • If it makes you feel any better, the Chinese feel the same way about air travel. They only want to spend as little as possible. This known fact is backed up by a little known domestic airline inside China called SSS. It's the largest and fastest growing. I've taken several flights. You get a single bottle of water and all meals are bought on the plane. Halfway through the flight, the flight attendants will walk down the isle with a cart advertising all sorts of crap to sell. As an American, I find that to b

  • There are UL, CSA and CE marks which go on equipment which convey "This product was tested and found to be reasonably safe". There could also be a mark which goes in the product documentation and on the nameplate which is recognisable by consumers who are concerned about exploitation of workers. The safety marks require bi-annual inspections of the factory and also the submission of objective evidence that the product was manufactured with all the safety critical components in place. The same thing could be

    • by mirix (1649853)

      Problem with this is - I see the CE mark on many devices that (yes, [citation needed]) I'm almost entirely sure have not been tested, and don't qualify for CE/TuV/UL/etc. Random worthless electronics from china on ebay, for example.

      That testing isn't cheap, you know.

  • sparkfun iirc has some interesting stories on their site where they visit China and the lines that make some of their stuff. note: its not foxconn.

    you can also buy used.

  • Pinball Games Are made in the USA by hand.

  • If I want to buy a new tech gadget, from whom can I buy it without ethical qualms?"

    I'd love to hear from some of these workers before deciding what those ethical qualms are. I'm all for helping them out, but it'd be nice for them to ask. Afterall, we don't want to cause them to lose their jobs.

  • They're probably the last bastion of American computer assembly - I believe you can actually get an option code that certifies that an IBM POWER machine is made in the US of US components, even, intended for national security applications.

  • It wasn't all that long ago that the worlds manufacturing floor for PC components was Taiwan rather than mainland China. Anyone care to contrast the current working conditions in China to those in Taiwan 10 years ago?
    • by siddesu (698447)

      Working conditions in Taiwan 10 or 15 years ago were much better than China today IMHO. In 1997, the Taiwanese had already had their first truly democratic elections, working conditions were tolerable mostly everywhere, there was already a national medical insurance plan and some social security in place, there were rather strict labor safety laws, environment pollution laws, etc.

  • Depending on your standard there is probably none. I have spent a lot of time in China over the last couple of years and have visited quite a few factories. The working conditions vary of course but general the higher quality the product the better the factory is made in. I guess the attention to details that make a better product are also more like to make a better work environment. The quality of our product is our reputation which is why we now have our own factory built to first world standards. We
  • China has recently change their laws, and is trying to get out of the cheap unskilled labor.

    Due to this, and increased fuel costs, jobs are starting to return to the US.

    New laws make it illegal to work more then 60 hours a week, even if the worker volunteers. Salary increase, etc..

  • by wzinc (612701) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @12:37AM (#39056355)
  • by aiken_d (127097) <brooks AT tangentry DOT com> on Thursday February 16, 2012 @03:28AM (#39057167) Homepage

    Let's save all of those poor asian wage slaves by boycotting products from asia. That'll help 'em!

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