Economists Guojun He and Jeffrey Perloff at the University of California, Berkeley, published a study that details widespread illegal working conditions among Chinese companies despite the scrutiny of Western audits.
Hewlett-Packard has issued new rules to its China based suppliers that affect students working in their factories.
Keith Bradsher and David Barboza, report in the New York Times:
Google's Nexus Q "media streaming" device costs $299, requires speakers and a TV although it does have a small amplifier, better products already exist.
Sonos sells a compact $299 wireless speaker, the Play:3 that can play your iTunes library and stream from any music service. It can blast any room with loud sound through 3 high quality speakers, each with its own custom-tuned digital amp.
[I reviewed the Play:5, essentaily the same as the Play:3 but with two extra speakers.]
(Image by Damien Van Achter)
For the first time, Apple has disclosed the identity of 156 suppliers, and said it will become the first tech company to join the Fair Labor Association (FLA).
This means that the FLA will investigate Apple suppliers and issue regular reports on their labor practices.
I went to the vigil for dead Foxconn workers outside the Apple store in San Francisco Thursday evening, organized by the Chinese Progressive Association.
Chris Knight from Cohn & Wolfe came with me and snapped some pictures (above and the next one.)
There were about 50 people, a lot of high school kids, taking part in the demonstration and handing out leaflets that urged people to email email@example.com (using an iPad in the store!).
The leaflet asked that Apple work with Foxconn to adopt more humane production schedules; to facilitate the formation of a trade union; and improve overall working conditions.
The message was to tell Apple "you expect better." Or, as I like to put it, Apple should "Think Different - Think Fair."
Thursday June 17, at 5.45pm to 7.00 pm there will be a vigil at Apple's very first Apple Store, 1 Stockton Street (@ Market Street) to remember the dead workers at Foxconn, Apple's supplier of iPads and iPhones.
There will be a photo opportunity: "Protestors will have candles and have life size "Deathpads" with workers profile and campaign information."
It's interesting to note that the Apple Store is just a few blocks from San Francisco's Chinatown.
San Francisco Community Vigil in Solidarity with Foxconn Workers
Apple Computer's "DeathPad" Targeted for Inhumane Production Demands
San Francisco, CA - Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) is organizing a San Francisco vigil for Chinese workers at Foxconn, the Apple manufacturer where there has been a surge of worker deaths. In the last few months, 13 young migrant workers have attempted suicide, 10 workers have died while 3 remain in critical condition. A worker also died of extreme exhaustion after working a 34 hour shift. Apple computer's "Deathpad" has brought huge profits to Apple at the expense of workers lives.
Chinese Progressive Association calls on Apple and Foxconn to take responsibility for the workers and to find real solutions to the extreme pressure and deplorable working conditions in the factory. We urge Apple to work with Foxconn and ensure that workers are being treated fairly.
The Chinese Progressive Association educates and organizes the low income and working class immigrant Chinese community in San Francisco to build collective power with other oppressed communities to demand better living and working conditions and justice for all people.
"Think Fair" A Potential Apple Follow Up to "Think Different"
Analysis: Here's How Apple Could Become The First Fair Trade Tech Company
Foxconn Suicides: Is It Time For "Fair Trade" Electronics? Would You Buy A "Fair Trade" iPhone?
Who will be the first Fair Trade tech company? I think Apple could do it: Analysis: Here's How Apple Could Become The First Fair Trade Tech Company.
And here is the perfect follow up to Apple's "Think Different" marketing campaign: "Think Fair."
The "Think Different" advertising slogan was introduced in 1997 and it became insanely successful, it was credited with rejuvenating the Apple brand and used for about five years. "Think Fair" could easily run five years.
If Apple products were Fair Trade electronics, they would marry great design with great ethics -- that's a killer combination. Right now, the Apple iPad is associated with suicides. Earlier today I retweeted this:"@drachgenabe: One suicide death per 200,000 sold iPad." That's the wrong kind of killer marketing.
"Think Fair" Apple products would do wonders for the user experience; there's nothing wrong with warm and fuzzy.
The only problem: Apple fanboys would become even more annoying than they are now. They would exude a torrent of moral superiority from every pore of their bodies. It could be over powering -- especially in confined spaces.
(Image by Damien Van Achter)
In the wake of the Foxconn suicides I've asked Who will be the first "Fair Trade" tech company? Moving beyond "green"...
Becoming the first Fair Trade tech company would not be easy but there is one company that would find it easier than others and that's Apple.
Apple has already taken some steps towards this by topping up Foxconn worker salaries. TechEye reports:
Apple has decided to give the workers a small cut of its profit margin, which it hopes will give workers a better standard of living and slow down the number of suicides that have taken place in the factory, which makes iPads, iPods and iPhones in Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry.
The rumoured 20 percent raise from Apple will raise the cost of labour for the iPad from 2.3 percent of the cost to 3.0 percent of the cost.
A 20% higher salary for its workers is excellent and it comes at a very small overall manufacturing cost increase.
That's a feather in Apple's cap and a potentially great marketing move too.
Fair Trade electronics would mean that every part of a product has been manufactured in a Fair Trade environment. The supply chain for electronics can be massive, it will probably be impossible to make a 100% Fair Trade laptop, for example, for a while yet. But smaller products would be possible, especially if a huge manufacturer such as Foxconn converts part of its factory into Fair Trade production zones.
A 100% Fair Trade electronics product might be tough but it would be possible to calculate how much of a product is "Fair Trade" and issue a percentage number. As more manufacturing facilities within a supply chain are "Fair Trade Certified" that would raise the Fair Trade total for a product, and that can be advertised on the packaging.
When I was in Japan a couple of years agoI met a startup called Rinen. It had developed OpenTrace, a way of tracking the carbon footprint of any product. That same approach could be used to track the Fair Trade content of any product.
Apple has very healthy profit margins on its products, much better than say, Dell, or Hewlett-Packard. Apple's overall profitability is 21%, Dell is at 3%, HP is at 7%.
Apple's profit margins on key products such as the iPhone and iPad are even greater.
Apple can easily absorb higher manufacturing costs, Dell and HP cannot.
What Apple pays in extra manufacturing it could recoup with killer marketing to sell more products.
For example, how would a Dell laptop compete against an Apple Fair Trade laptop?
"Buy Dell! We're cheaper and less fair!"
There's profits in being fair...
The first Fair Trade tech company would reap a bonanza in terms of the marketing opportunities plus all the free publicity surrounding that announcement.
Steve Jobs has taken bold steps in removing porn from the iPad, he's clearly an ethical thinker and leader. Why wouldn't he want Apple to become a Fair Trade company? I'm certain he will. I'm certain that eventually, every company will seek to be Fair Trade.
If it is truly inevitable, why not try to be the first and reap the benefits before everyone else?
- - -
Here is a Pearltree on Fair Trade Electronics. If you know of additional sources send me a pearl and I'll add it.
A great photo from Damien Van Achter from ""Fair Trade Electronics", by @tomforemski - Damien Van Achter"
There's a tremendous opportunity waiting to be grabbed. There's a Wikipedia page waiting to be written.
"The first Fair Trade tech company was ..."
I'm certain that the Fair Trade concept will be applied to electronics, and it's just a matter of when that will happen. I'm convinced it will happen not because it's a good idea but that it's a potentially profitable idea.
Let me explain my thinking. Our digital gadgets and gizmos are becoming very cheap, almost disposable - yet the working conditions for millions of workers in the global electronics industries are deplorable. Even though they often work in bunny suits, in super clean, well lighted work places, those jobs are highly stressful and often unhealthy.
Lets not forgot that those bright, sanitized work places, those clean work clothes, and filtered air conditioning, is not for the workers, it's to protect the electronics from the humans. The wages are poor and the work is grueling.
Fair Trade electronics could help tens of millions of people around the world without making much difference to our wallets. We could easily alleviate a lot of suffering without much suffering on our part, we could afford to pay a bit extra.
Noble goals are important but what will drive the growth of Fair Trade electronics is that it will be an excellent way to make money. It's a great way for companies to differentiate themselves in the market place.
Consider this: All technology products trend towards becoming commoditized - that's just how things work. How do companies fight commoditization? It's done through differentiation.
- Companies such as Apple do it through design. Take a commodity product, say an MP3 music player, and apply a great design. Design drives sales and it is a high profit value add.
- A lot of computer companies these days proclaim how green they are, how eco aware they are, and how their products use less energy, carbon, etc. "Green" drives sales and it's a high profit value-add.
- Fair Trade electronics is another way companies will be able to differentiate themselves from competitors. Fair Trade will drive sales and it is a high profit value add.
Yes, companies will be able to make money out of Fair Trade electronics and make a difference in the world- it's one of the wonders of capitalism.
Fair Trade applied to the electronics industry will also be incredibly transformative because the supply chains are huge.
Think of a laptop and how many companies were involved in the sourcing of the components of a hard drive, the motherboard, making the chips, the glass for the screen, the plastic for the keyboard, the springs in the keys, the capacitors, the resistors, and on and on...
To make a Fair Trade laptop would require hundreds if not thousands of companies in the supply chain to have Fair Trade certified work places. So, if a company such as Dell or HP were able to build just one electronics product, a Fair Trade laptop, it would revolutionize a massive sector of the world's electronics industry.
And once a supplier has a Fair Trade manufacturing facility it can then also supply Fair Trade components for a vast array of other Fair Trade electronics products.
The first Fair Trade tech company will revolutionize the entire industry. Who will it be?
Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturer of electronics products for Apple and many others, has reported 9 suicides among its workforce and is fighting allegations of being a sweatshop.
It's not the only tech company with a suicide problem, France Telecom's is much higher, with 46 suicides, and now a government investigation.
Both sets of suicides are blamed on work place stress.
The Foxconn suicide mess is all started from job stress. Within half a year, there are 9 suicides with 7 confirmed-deaths in Foxconn's factory of China, Shenzhen. In order to find out what's really going on in that factory, the Southern Weekly, described by The New York Times as China's most influential liberal newspaper, has sent an amateur reporter to slip into Foxconn's factory to pretend as a worker and the mission is to find out the truth of the suicide cluster.
The Paris prosecutor's office has opened an investigation into allegations of "workplace harassment" at France Telecom following a spate of suicides at the company, it emerged yesterday.
The former monopoly is also being investigated for failing to document properly the health risks facing its employees.
...In 2008 and 2009, 35 of the company's employees committed suicide, laying bare a deep crisis in morale among its 100,000-strong French workforce. The crisis has continued, with a further 11 employees taking their own lives since the beginning of 2010.
Stéphane Richard, France Telecom's new chief executive, told the Financial Times last month that there would probably be further suicides.
Is this the price of progress? Will we see suicides increase at other companies too?
The global work force, whether in China or France ... or in the US, is under ever increasing pressure to become more productive, and companies are forced to get rid of workers that can't keep up with the pace of production.
Laws that protect employees from losing their jobs aren't a good solution, as shown in France. French employers will sometimes make life unpleasant for staff, hoping they will leave.
I met with France Telecom executives in December in Paris. They showed me an impressive number of gadgets and services, including a 3-in-1 plan that included landline phone, cable TV, and mobile phone -- for 30 Euros a month, about $36!
I said it is impossible for me to get just one of those services for that price in the US. It just shows the intense competition for business in France.
It raises the question whether cheap bandwidth and low cost gadgets are the worth the cost in human lives--not to mention the huge amount of suffering in these work places that goes unreported.