Archive for the ‘Ethical smartphones’ Category

Samsung Galaxy Note ethical teardown

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012


View Samsung Galaxy Note ethical teardown in a larger map

Work very much in progress here, but I wanted to take a look at how some of the supply chains fit together in a modern smartphone. The badge on the front of my shiny new device says Samsung, and the Korean electronics giant obviously did a large chunk of the work involved in making it, but there are technical and economic factors making the overall picture of its origins rather wider.

Given the pretty reliable maxim that if you turn over most stones you’ll find something creepy underneath, I thought I’d have a look at the bits that make up my gadget and see if I can find out a little more about they impact they’ve had around the world.

So here are my first two snippets of stone lifting so far… (more…)

Defending Mike Daisey (not that he needs it)

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

US monologuist Mike Daisey has gotten into a spot of bother over his current show’s syndication on This American Life, and they’ve retracted the episode they did with him – incidentally their most popular ever show.

As you now can’t listen to it, the show centred on Mike’s trip to China, to investigate working conditions at Foxconn, the electronics megacorp that makes iPhones, Nokias, Dells, you name it… Mike had worked up his experiences in China into one of his monologue performances, a short one-man theatre/comedy routine, exploring the connections between how we feel about our shiny tech gewgaws, and the company ethos and practical manufacture details behind them.

It turns out Mike embellished a number of the details of his trip. He didn’t actually meet a number of the people he wrote about (some were based on case studies of people in a totally different city), and invented more dramatic dialogue from poetic licence. Prior to his This American Life airing, most people probably wouldn’t have been surprised by this, unless they were the type who was rather late finding out about Santa. (more…)

The Daily Show does Apple/Foxconn

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

After Mike Daisey with his Apple/Foxconn monologue, here’s Jon Stewart tackling Apple and other tech firms reliance on labour exploitation in China to produce their goods. Unfortunately us limeys can’t see the Daily Show’s online video, so check out this filmed-off-the-box grab of it (Before SOPA gets to it!)

Ethical Apple: The iPhone Monologues

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

I’ve been a fan of US storyteller Mike Daisey ever since I saw his 21 Dog Years show in a special UK performance at TUC towers in 2005. His current venture (a year old now but on a re-run in US theatres) is particularly interesting for me though, after the time I’ve spent of late looking into ethics issues in smartphone manufacture. Wanting to know more about the origins of his iPad, he took it with him in 2010 to the gates of Shenzhen’s Foxconn consumer electronics mega-plant.

The resulting show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”, deals with his Apple fandom (well, no-one’s perfect…) and its wider world implications. I’ve not seen the show sadly (he doesn’t appear this side of the pond too often), but I’ve been fascinated to listen to half of it, via a recent episode of the US radio show This American Life. (more…)

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

Friday, January 6th, 2012

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. (more…)

Nokia Lumia 800 – Another Foxconn sweated smartphone?

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Nokia announced themselves back in the smartphone race yesterday, with two forthcoming Windows 7 models, the Lumia 710 and Lumia 800. They’ve lost ground hand over fist in recent years to Apple, HTC and Samsung phones. How long has it been since you last heard the once ubiquitous Nokia ringtone in the wild?

The Lumia 800 in particular looks like a pretty neato handset. So as I’m in the market for an upgrade at the moment, I thought I’d check it out a bit more. My upgrade choices (Samsung’s Google Nexus Prime, HTC’s Sensation XL and Apple’s iPhone 4s) all have some degree of question mark over their corporate ethics, so could do with some competition if I’m looking for a less unethical mobile (I realise I’ve no chance of an actively ethical one!). (more…)

Samsung: Not as evil as they have been…

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Samsung customer services have been rather less keen to engage with my quest for a more ethical smartphone than their counterparts at HTC. First, I was told my email couldn’t be answered by national customer services, only international (apparently Samsung email doesn’t have ‘forward’), to I’d have to resend. Then my email couldn’t be answered as it was about something that had to be discussed by posted correspondence only (apparently they don’t have a printer). Then (surprise, surprise) my letter was mysteriously lost.

I did inadvertently manage to get one useful bit of information out of them though. Samsung have for a long while been customers of sweatshop touchscreen outsourcer, Young Fast Optoelectronics (YFO), who provide them with LCD touchscreens. However, as I was asking specifically about the Galaxy S2 model, I found out that as Samsung have been the pioneers in AMOLED screen technology, they built the capacity to make the new type of screens in house, rather than use screen suppliers. (more…)

Apple: The $81bn question

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Even with a failure to meet latest targets – presumably to iPhone 5 hype and 4S meh meaning phone sales were down 3 million from projections – Apple Computer still turned a ludicrous $28bn last quarter. That’s two thirds up on previous turnover, and a whopping 85% up on profit – thanks to very healthy margins on their premium i-Gewgaws.

Tim Cook’s biggest problem now is what to do with an $81bn and growing surplus that Apple are just sitting on. Frankly, they’re raking it in far faster than they can do anything with it. They were never big on dividends to shareholders, and even their much vaunted R&D operation is only $450m a year – hardly a pinprick on their cash mountain. And the problem shows no sign of going away – as they charge into the Chinese gadget market, they’re predicting a bailout-tastic £37bn for the next quarter.

So given they have more money than they know what to do with, why are they still so keen on screwing every penny out of their suppliers, and by extension their outsourced workforce? (more…)

Have HTC read their own Code of Ethics recently?

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

So I’ve been looking at choosing my next smartphone upgrade with a nod to its ethical implications. It’s not really surprised me that it’s not that easy to find out much on this. Customer services departments tend to clam up when you ask awkward questions, and I don’t have the clout of a proper media outlet to make press offices take note.

HTC have come the closest in terms of answering my questions so far though, and were good enough to give me the requested copy of their Code of Ethics for suppliers (PDF). It’s not a bad policy *, mentioning the right to union membership, and many of the key terms you’d expect.

After a stunt last year by workers who make HTC phone touchscreens, HTC Chairperson Cher Wang engaged sympathetically but told her disrupted press conference that the issue wasn’t one she knew about, other than that it related not to HTC staff, but to a supplier (Young Fast Optoelectronics), and that therefore HTC unfortunately couldn’t do anything about it.

However, a lot of the issues in the HTC supplier code neatly map against a Taiwanese government inspector’s report from 2010. Chairperson Wang is a busy woman, so I’ve made her a handy cut out and keep guide: (more…)

Apple squeezing iPad suppliers til the pips squeak

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Last month’s Make IT Fair campaign day called on Apple to give workers in their supply chains a larger bite at the iPhone & iPad apple.

That looks to have fallen on deaf ears though as the company are reported to be currently demanding 10% price cuts from their outsourced component suppliers, despite huge increases in sales.

The fact that Apple already have profit margins for iPhones far higher than any of their competitors – running nearly 60% – doesn’t seem to register. Apple are already squeezing their suppliers harder than other firms, and those suppliers are already squeezing their staff – with disastrous consequences.

What effect do they seriously think a 10% cost cut is going to have on the labour rights and safety concerns that Steve Jobs claims to be “all over”?