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Are Fair Trade electronics on their way?

(5) June 15th, 2010

Are Fair Trade electronics on their way?

Fair Trade is currently making its way through many industries. We see it anywhere from chocolate and coffee to clothing and handicrafts. Which begs the question, when will it sweep through electronics and the tech world? You may have read in the news lately that the company that makes everything you’ve ever touched (and I’m not freaking kidding) has actually turned out to be a really lousy place to work. So lousy in fact, that 10 employees have killed themselves, citing horrible work conditions.

Foxconn are the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, producing goods for big names such as Cisco, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Motorola, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, and Apple, and it’s apparently such a harrowing place to work that people are literally walking upstairs to the roof and jumping off. Unreasonable amounts of overtime, beatings, not being allowed to converse with coworkers while on the job, military-style drills, and being punished by being forced to stand at attention for long periods of time are among the complaints from the workers at the factory, based in Shenzhen, China. Foxconn themselves have admitted to breaching local labour laws, with their workers doing an extra 80 hours of overtime per month, over double the legally permitted 36 hours. The company having only 3 registered suicides the year before, realised this problem and combatted it by sending out a memo to staff making them promise not to kill themselves. I’m not shitting you. Some psychiatrists have pointed out the importance of noting that the number of suicides is not abnormally high when compared with China’s estimated suicide rate of 15 per 100,000 per year, with Foxconn’s Longhua plant having a workforce of over 300,000.

Who is responsible for making sure workers are looked after? Surely it’s the factory foremen overseeing the employees personally? No, it must be their supervisors, they’re just taking orders after all, so it’s the manufacturer’s responsibility. Well by that logic if we keep going up the chain it must be the job of the companies contracting the manufacturers… Bugger it, we’ll let the law handle it, even if they’re crap at policing it. Or maybe…. just maybe…

Is it you?

Would you pay $100-$200 more for a Fair Trade iPhone? Is it our responsibility to vote with our wallets? The electronics industry is one where a majority of decisions are made with the hip pocket in mind, it will be interesting to see how Fair Trade fares.

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5 Responses to “Are Fair Trade electronics on their way?”

  1. Justinbiebersballsack says:

    Can you feed my love of irony and confirm that you wrote the Fair Trade article on a piece of technology that was most probably made in this exact factory?

  2. Leena says:

    Yep, wrote it on my Macbook Pro, of which a Fair Trade version would have been purchased had there been the option. This isn’t a “zomg Foxconn is evilll” article, it’s more a pondering on when Fair Trade is going to make its way to electronics. I’ll be first in line to pay extra when it does. :)

  3. Justinbiebersballsack says:

    Personally Im cool with it. After all western decadence and consumerism is built on the back of poorly treated 3rd world labourers. :P
    At any rate, your article actually point to the fact that the suicide rate for this factory is lower than the Chinese average. This factory should be seen as a beacon of best practice in China

  4. Ceylon says:

    I would. Would pay more for naturally-sourced materials, too — which is part of why I’m eyeing a Pro to replace my MacBook. Admittedly there’s still gonna be strip mining for the silicon/copper/alumin(i)um to build the hardware, but it’ll be slightly less destructive.

    I don’t want my computers made of orphans’ tears! (They’re bad for the wiring.)

  5. Jen says:

    Hmm, it’s kind of hard to know if something is genuinely “fair trade” or not. I remember people making a big fuss about buying clothes in Oz but I know that a lot of these clothes were made in sweat shops by parents of friends. Their work conditions didn’t meet any basic Australian workplace health standards and people were paid less than minimum wage. How did their bosses get away with it? Well workers were paid by their output not by the hour. These workers were stuck in their home garages sewing together clothes long into the night for as little as 2 an hour.

    I had a friend who was a cleaner and got paid $4 an hour, he was employed by a contractor and cleaned big companies. As a overseas student he didn’t complain because it was so hard to find work. Same deal, you’re given a certain number of hours to clean a number of floors. Your pay slip says you’ve worked two hours but you’ve worked much more to get the amount of work done.

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