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.