Samsung Galaxy Note ethical teardown

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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…

Assembly, screen, memory etc – Samsung

Everland is the largest theme park in Korea. It’s owned and operated by Samsung. It has a zoo and water park, and strangely enough no name in Korean – Everland gets approximated as “Ebeoraendeu” locally (according to Wikipediaat least).It features in my teardown map as an exception that proves a rule that’s hopefully about to change. Samsung has had a long term “no unions” policy. They favour the old management trope that they don’t want third parties messing up the great relationship they have with staff, and have been more than happy to squash any attempts at genuine unions being formed by their workers.

They’ve managed to get this around Korean labour law by appointing tame unions to represent the staff, and turning down others on the grounds they already have a recognition deal going.

So the work done in house in Korea on my Samsung Galaxy note has been done by workers who don’t have the opportunity to join a real trade union.

Recently though, labour law has changed to allow multiple recognitions, so this excuse is wearing a little thin. Currently the best chance for an independent union within Samsung’ huge Korean operation is at Everland, where a small group have formed to take advantage of the new law.

(of course it goes without saying that in other already unionised firms, less scrupulous bosses could start looking at the multiple union law as a way to weaken existing good unions…)More power to the Evelanders though, and it’s ironic to think the only union in Samsung Korea that isn’t Mickey Mouse is the one in their theme park.

Flash microcontrroller – Atmel

Atmel are a microcontroller manufacturer who produce the MXT540E touch screen controller used in the Galaxy Note. They have a FAB (semiconductor fabrication facility) in Colorado Springs, USA, but have in recent years closed three other FABs.

This includes the Dec ’11 closedown of their FAB in Rousset, France, which was controversial and involved a protracted strike by the workforce. It’s alleged that the final terms didn’t match up to an agreement signed at the beginning of the process with the workforce and their union the CFDT.

From what Google can translate for me, the guarantees on redundancy and short time working pay were ultimately not upheld, and the company fell back onto legal minimums instead.

I can’t tell which FAB the Galaxy Note controllers were produced in, and I guess not France as they mightn’t make a new product in a factory they knew they were most likely closing since 2009.

Of course companies are always changing, so closing a particular factory is something that sometimes just has to happen if it can’t be made to work out for the business, but it seems this one is a little fishy.

Atmel posted record Microcontroller revenue of $1,114 Million in 2011, Up 25% on the previous year, and the firm appears on lots of stocks-to-watch lists, so it looks like they could have afforded to do much better by its workforce when the firm decided to close.

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