Samsung: Not as evil as they have been…

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.

So this means if you’re looking at an AMOLED model (such as the current flagship Galaxy S2 or the forthcoming, and very tasty looking, Google Nexus Prime), the screen is a Samsung product. For their cheaper phones with LCD screens, I guess the screens are still coming from the unionbusting YFO.

Of course, I’m guessing the switch had more to do with making the most of Samsung’s own screen technologies, rather than any kind of reaction to their business ethics, so this is hardly a ringing endorsement, given that reading between the lines, they still use YFO for other models, and haven’t made any public comment I can find.

Second black mark against Samsung in recent times has been their lack of concern for the safety of their own workforce and the environment in parts of screen manufacture. Greenpeace have been on their case for some time, since most other electronics manufacturers started ditching the chemicals Brominated Flame Retardant (BFR) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC).

I asked Samsung specifically about this, but again no answer. However I recently stumbled on a new policy page on their site, which claims that they’re now BFR and PVC clear on all new model mobile phones since April 2010. So if your phone was launched after that date, it should hopefully be in the clear, meaning again that the Galaxy S2 and Nexus Prime are BFR and PVC free.

Presumably they didn’t want to crow about this though given their extreme tardiness in following the rest of the industry, and the between-the-lines admission that they may still be using the chemicals in 18 month old models that are still being manufactured (the original Galaxy S is still on sale – not sure if it qualifies).

So at the moment, Samsung seems to be sitting top of my ethical smartphone pile, ahead of heavy YFO customer HTC and Foxconn’s favourites Apple, but it’s a hollow recommendation, not really through any kind of positive action, and only true for the phones I’ve been looking at (Galaxy SII and Nexus Prime) rather than the manufacturer more widely.

Pls to share (thanks!):

7 thoughts on “Samsung: Not as evil as they have been…

  1. Thanks John – that is interesting, and no, I’d not seen it – d’oh!!!

    I’d looked at a couple of ethical sites, but found quite old info that seemed to be superseded (eg Samsung quitting some of the toxics later than everyone else), and annoyingly absolutely nothing about relatively new entrant as a consumer brand, HTC.

    Will buy the report and read through it a bit more closely. I actually took the plunge and bought a Samsung yesterday, so if they don’t come up as ethical as I thought after all, I’ll have to make sure send them a *lot* of emails on my swishy new phone!

    Don’t know about Samsung using Foxconn. I know Foxconn use Samsung to supply lots of the components that they assemble into iPhones and pass on to Apple (makes it seem all the odder that Apple are busing suing the hind quarters off Samsung for their phones, but if Samsung stopped helping out, there would be no more iPhones anyway).

    Interestingly, it seems other firms may be hedging bets. Looks like Apple are looking at assembly suppliers in addition to Foxconn, and Nokia bringing in Compal a bit more (on Lumia 700), so maybe the bad publicity is getting through, and they’ve realised they need to rely on Foxconn less totally if they want to influence them (or get out if it gets worse)?

  2. I’m having this very same problem. My Nokia isn’t really working anymore and I need a new smartphone soon. I’m due an upgrade as well but not sure if there will be any phone that is ethical 🙁

  3. nice website and nice posts. pvc and bfr, as well as other material usage is a high priority for me when choosing. surprised others don’t think so

  4. want to know reality of samsung….this may shock all of u. Reported by the guardian. Happened in samsung’s own factory. Even foxconn does not make its workers work like that for 24 hrs….reading this u may conclude foxconn better than samsung and may regret buying a samsung. Goto

    One more shocking fact – samsung printers use foxconn circuit boards. These facts are astounding for samsung fans who believe it to be ethical- i was just one of them before i read that guardian news.

  5. even more shocking site i got….samsung causing cancer to its workers…radiation ,dangerous chemicles involved . visit

    sprea the word guys….. its shocking….foxconn htc actually better. read the whole thing.

  6. Thanks for sharing this Sushant,

    I’d not seen that one – had no idea things were that bad in fringes of UK electronics industry. This was back in 2004 though, and things may have changed to a little degree for migrant workers in the UK, as the Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority has started to clean up other sectors which use migrant labour (though with rumours it would be cut last year, the future of any gains here is far from certain).

    I don’t think it shows Samsung as being measurably worse than Foxconn though. There’s a degree of difference in that Samsung is a Korean manufacturer/assembler. They make some of their own components in house (eg AMOLED screens) but also use extensive outsourced components from right around the world. Foxconn are a virtual manufacturer/assembler, who act as the physical arm for the ‘virtual brand’ Apple (and others like Nokia) and who also outsource many components.

    There’s a big gulf between conditions in Samsung’s own factories in Korea and in other countries and those in their component suppliers. Like in the article here, Samsung have provided decent jobs in the UK, complying with domestic labour law, but they also rely heavily on a network of shady outsourcers who don’t, and abuse their workforces. In Korea, Samsung are far from perfect (they have a no union policy for starters), but their conditions are better than those further down their supply chains. With Foxconn, it’s crap all the way from the centre out.

    This is in no way to exonerate Samsung from the abuses that are built into their products, but I believe there is a difference there. With Samsung, we need to show that they can’t hide the abuse by keeping it out of sight and out of mind in the supply chain. If they allow their outsourcers to do things they wouldn’t do in their own factories, they’re still complicit. With Foxconn, we also need to expose the abuse that happens directly in their factories, and is designed into the process by Foxconn themselves.

    Apple’s latest announcements on joining the FLA could be a step towards bringing Foxconn up to scratch centrally, but we need to scrutinise this to check it’s actually happening (The FLA can be used to brush problems under the carpet by companies who don’t want to change. It’s a good first step, but only a first step).

    However of course the picture gets event murkier with the complexity of some of these supply chains. Foxconn buy a lot of components from Samsung to make iPhones (They’re one of the biggest component manufacturers for that particular device), and Samsung use Foxconn made components in their own devices. Here’s a very interesting breakdown diagram:

    The other story, on their continued use of PVC/BFRs in some products, is one I’ve picked up on since (more here ), and you’re right about me reconsidering the purchase! Samsung are one of the worst major brands at eradicating these harmful plastics from their product line, something they’ve been heavily criticised for, and I’m now not sure what the current status of this is. Their own site says any phone designed since April 2010 is PVC/BFR free, which should mean most if not all of their currently produced range. However, they still do use them in some components (mostly cabling) of other machines in their very wide product range.

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