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

January 6th, 2012 by john

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Nokia Lumia 800 – Another Foxconn sweated smartphone?

October 27th, 2011 by john

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!). Read the rest of this entry »

Samsung: Not as evil as they have been…

October 23rd, 2011 by john

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Apple: The $81bn question

October 21st, 2011 by john

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? Read the rest of this entry »

Have HTC read their own Code of Ethics recently?

October 19th, 2011 by john

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: Read the rest of this entry »

If Damien Hirst did WordPress: Turning old CMS driven sites into static archives

October 11th, 2011 by john

"The Physical Impossibility Of v3.2 In The Mind Of Someone Running v2.8"

WordPress is as any fule kno, about three or four of the seven wonders of the Internet. It’s a remarkably elegant and flexible website platform that puts enormous publishing power into the hands of people without any particular coding skills to speak of. As a definite member of this low-talent group, I find it hard to speak too highly of it.

However, like all good things, it’s very easy to binge on it and regret it later. You can throw up impressive, interactive blogs and sites for anything, extremely quickly – any short term project, event or campaign – and soon find you’ve got a dozen defunct CMS-driven websites on your hands. Read the rest of this entry »

Defend Charles Hector: Asahi Kosei sue for $3.3m over labour rights campaign

June 29th, 2011 by john

Malaysian blogger, lawyer and human rights activist Charles Hector is in court for a second day today. Good Electronics report that he’s being sued for $ 3.3 million in damages in a defamation case by electronics component manufacturer Asahi Kosei.

The case hinges on comments he made on behalf of a group of Burmese migrant workers in the country, who alleged they had been promised much better pay and conditions by the company than they eventually received. When they complained, they were threatened with termination and deportation.

Worryingly, the trial looks to be stacked against Hector, with the court issuing a statement in advance that the blog posting under discussion was factually incorrect, and refusing to allow the migrant workers affected to join the suit. Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook union bans: Three strikes and you’re out

June 22nd, 2011 by john

The union Faceban saga took a new and depressing turn this week, after many people found they were prohibited from sharing a link to the activist site supporting unions’ industrial action on the 30th June – j30strike.org – We’re now contending with Facebook pre-bans!

When they tried to post the link (and later also short link site redirects to the site, and even posts discussing the site), they got a popup message saying the site had been reported and they weren’t able to share it. This persisted for some time before Facebook relented and let the site be shared by users.

This isn’t a new development – vexatious complaints to Facebook (or indeed pretty much any other commercial social network) can be ludicrously powerful. Facebook’s revenue per user is pretty minuscule, so their legions of users can only be serviced on the cheap. A few years back they only had around 100 customer service operatives to moderate tens of millions of active users’ content, and I imagine if the situation’s changed, it’s for the worse. Read the rest of this entry »

Apple squeezing iPad suppliers til the pips squeak

June 21st, 2011 by john

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”?

iPad exploitation: A view inside Foxconn

June 8th, 2011 by john

Here’s an important short video from SACOM, the campaigning academic group behind last year’s brave undercover exposé of working conditions inside Apple iPhone and iPad outsourced supplier Foxconn. The video highlights the firm’s Chengdu mega-factory, which works on the iPad for Apple, and uncovers evidence of broken promises to workers, poor safety, and a political culture where the firm seems to get away with whatever it pleases.