D’oh! Samsung Galaxy Note not nearly as ethical as I’d thought

Well, that’s just great…

After doing a bunch of reading up on HTC, Samsung and Apple smartphones, and some of the dodgy suppliers who make their phone components for them, I settled on upgrading my mobile to a Samsung Galaxy Note. I’ve had it a week now and really love it. It’s an amazing device, able to do most of what I’d ever want from a phone and a laptop all in one tool, which (just about) fits into my jeans pocket.

My choice had come down to the Galaxy Note or the almost as mammoth-sized HTC Sensation XL. In the end, I’d plumped for Samsung mainly as I’d not found any evidence that HTC had done anything to improve the situation with sweatshop touchscreen supplier YFO, whereas Samsung customer services had responded that they’d brought screen manufacture in house (not actually responding to ethical concerns of course, but side-stepping the problem could debatably be seen as slightly better than just doing nothing).

However, today Hazards Editor Rory O’Neill has helpfully pointed me towards reports that despite the improvements, Samsung might still not be doing enough over their bad record on exposing workers to hazardous chemicals, and that they’ve also got a draconian no union policy that has seen attempts to start up real independent unions bullied into failure.

As this article from July (that I somehow managed to completely miss!) shows, a new Korean law permits multiple union recognitions in a workplace. Up until now, the company has been able to point to deals with bogus management-controlled unions as evidence to show they didn’t need another one, but now an independant union has a real chance – if you can call standing up to a company that’s been far from afraid to bully out activists in the past a real chance that is…

So having bought a phone that’s now taken a rather severe ethical tumble, the challenge is on for me to find a way to use my swanky new Note to help push Samsung into doing better by the latest attempt at an independent union amongst employees at Samsung Everland.

Any suggestions short of tieing a note to it and lobbing its brick-sized form through Samsung HQ’s window (I do still love it…) would be gratefully received! At least it’s proving useful in finding more out – Today I’ve used it to sign this petition to Samsung, voted Samsung in this corporate misbehaviour award, and stuck some of Rory’s linked articles into Evernote, to read on its lovely 5.3″ Super AMOLED on my commute home.

And if you’re looking for a monstrous large Android smartphone from a slightly less unethical manufacturer, I guess (sigh…) the HTC Sensation XL vs Samsung Galaxy Note battle is back on – with the Taiwanese white monolith now looking much more the favourite – D’oh!

5 Responses to “D’oh! Samsung Galaxy Note not nearly as ethical as I’d thought”

  1. Kris Says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’ll likely be in the market for a new phone soon, yet I would appreciate having the opportunity of purchasing something that is ethically manufactured. Thanks for doing so much of the work and sharing it.

  2. Guy Says:

    John

    Just looking into my own upgrade and discovered your efforts. Thank you for exploring this issue to any degree although the findings are generally discouraging. The minutiae of suppliers is a minefield and one that almost makes sustainability impossible as true analysis, reporting and coercing (cyclically, indefinitely) would push costs at every stage of manufacturing leading to the county/factory/person cutting corners dominating the market as the masses just don’t care enough.

    I don’t doubt if we look into many modern consumables we’ll find similar disparity between sustainability and reality. How many consumers care though? By and large job creation and preservation remain more important drivers than sustainability, and exploitation is a relative concept. Maybe for consumers there should be a standard list on these products highlighting areas the companies are failing on. Like online consumer reviewing this sort of benchmarking might motivate the necessary change.

    The ethical thing seems to be stick with my old phone really. That’s not very exciting is this I-want-the-shiny-shiny world. Maybe instead of ‘upgrading’ I could request my service provider to donate to a developing nation on my behalf.

    Anyway, I’m rambling, thanks again for digging into this.

    P.S HTC Sensation had been in my top 3 before I got here, not saying I’m getting one though!

  3. Andrew Leonard Says:

    Hi John,

    I’m a reporter working on a story about seeking an ethical smartphone, and I’d love to talk to you about your own quest. aleonard@salon.com.

  4. Ivy Says:

    Have you looked into blackberry at all? I’m trying to find a phone, like you obviously, with as much “ethics” as I can, but am obviously coming up short. I know when BB first started they assembled their devices in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada (my hometown) but I’ve heard they’ve outsourced much of their production and I can’t seem to find any conclusive information as to where they have outsourced and just how much. I’m not going with apple again (I have the iPhone 3G) and at first I was excited when I saw that you had found relatively decent information about the Samsung, but obviously it seems like it will be near impossible to find a phone without ethical flaws. I was just hoping perhaps Blackberry would be the lesser of the evils since they do still do a lot of manufacturing here.

  5. john Says:

    Hi Ivy, TBH no, not at all. I’ve only really been looking in detail at those devices that I’d been considering for my upgrade, and BB aren’t really on my radar in the UK. Would be really interested to hear if you find anything more though – drop them a customer services email (and be prepared to wait, write again, wait again if my experience is anything to go by). Best, John