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Ethical Android?

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#1
johninnit

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A request please for anyone who knows more about the ways smartphones are being made...

I've been waiting for the contract on my HTC Touch HD to expire, and now it has, I was planning to upgrade to the new Desire HD. One thing has stopped me though, which is allegations of very dodgy practices at one of HTC's suppliers - Young Fast Optoelectronics - the people who make the touchscreens (not just for HTC, but also for many other Samsung/LG phones).

YFO have allegedly been compromising safety, forcing people into long overtime, having kids working for them, and sacking union activists/members to stop people complaining about it. I've followed some of the story on social media as the workers there are quite plugged in as you might expect. (There's a blog at http://yfotu.blogspot.com/ unfortunately - for me at least - only about 10% in English).

This has echoes of Apple's woes at Foxconn (who make their iphone screens), where high pressure and low pay have been driving workers to suicide as protest. In both cases, the brands themselves like to have a good corporate social responsibility profile, but aren't doing so much to enforce it on their suppliers too (tho looks like Apple are starting).

I wrote to Samsung and HTC, and got back similar good words about what they expect of their suppliers. They just don't seem to have any teeth in the agreements to enforce this. Samsung went one further, almost implying the Galaxy S would be a more ethical phone choice as they've brought production for that model back in house where they can control it.

So what I'm wondering - looking at recent reports on growth for HTC & Apple, and decline for Nokia, is will subcontractor sweatshops become a bigger and bigger problem if more smartphones are either from brands which now assemble purely from subcontracted parts, or (in the case of Google Nexus and network branded sets) another step further removed from this?

I'd be happy to add the few dollars that it would cost to give subcontractor workers a more decent standard of working life to the cost of the Desire HD I'm after. Or does anyone else have ethical android tips? (pref ones that don't involve me wearing a hair shirt and living with my old handset!!)

I realise this is an issue right across electronics, but it seems to me that smartphones could be right at the front of it, given the changes in the new industry, and the fact the products themselves are all about killing distance between people - helping connect people to find out about problems on the other side of the world or even do something about it.

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#2
thisweb

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Unfortunately, there are and will not be, in the forseable future any ethically produced smartphones. If there are, you can't afford them!

Buy a second hand one is my advice, its not completely ethical (it encourages others to buy more) but at least it takes you out of the new consumer market and encourages new buyers to spend a little more on a phone, knowing they can get some of the investment back. But this is fairly pointless without demanding the manufacturers take a cut in proffits and convince consumers to pay more to protect the workers. I love smartphones but fairtrade electrical goods just don't exist yet. We must campaign more for this.

edit: It is worth remembering that since android is open source, very little of your money goes towards software development (unlike microsoft/apple os phones), now that could make the phone cheaper or the same price with more profit to HTC/Samsung etc or it could be the same price, same profit to HTC, but better pay to workers. The latter would be more in the spirit of open source but needs an open cost breakdown from the manufacturers.

Edited by thisweb, 01 October 2010 - 09:35 PM.

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#3
thisweb

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Been thinking about this a bit more.

If I assume an iphone/android phone offer all the same features , given that apple advertise and develop their own software and HTC do very little of this but still sell for roughly the same price, either HTC are making bigger profits, or they are paying their workers more. Either way apple must be screwing people over (foxcon) to compete. A brand only sticks with advertising, and that costs a lot, a lot , a lot!

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#4
johninnit

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Good points ta, and yes, have very much that suspicion with Apple. Wonder also if Taiwan is more expensive than PRC for manufacture - might be why Apple went to PRC based Foxconn if they could shave costs more.

In following the money, so far as I know, HTC have a pretty good rep on treating their own people right - I even heard good things once from a senior manager in Europe about the importance of workplace democracy, and this seems borne out in the supplier code they've shown me. Just that they don't seem to be bothering to enforce their own code. HTC are paying YFO pretty well too, as I've read they're about to post record profits for Q3. So it looks like the subcontractor is earning but just not passing on to their own people.

So whilst I'd deffo agree with you there's no such thing as proper ethical phone manufacturers - won't hold breath for the Desire FT (Fair Trade) - I'm more after something not actively evil than something positively good.

To me the dodgy link seems to be the subcontractors. Whilst a company wouldn't do something behind its own gates, it's easier to stomach if it's out of sight and out of mind. In which case is a mobile from a more in-house outfit like Samsung's Galaxy S a better choice (tho not Samsung's other part-YFO supplied models)? Or are they really all the same, and the Samsung/Nokia/Motorola types likely to go the same way as the new outsourcing brands in a short while anyway?

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#5
thisweb

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Good points ta, and yes, have very much that suspicion with Apple. Wonder also if Taiwan is more expensive than PRC for manufacture - might be why Apple went to PRC based Foxconn if they could shave costs more.

In following the money, so far as I know, HTC have a pretty good rep on treating their own people right - I even heard good things once from a senior manager in Europe about the importance of workplace democracy, and this seems borne out in the supplier code they've shown me. Just that they don't seem to be bothering to enforce their own code. HTC are paying YFO pretty well too, as I've read they're about to post record profits for Q3. So it looks like the subcontractor is earning but just not passing on to their own people.

So whilst I'd deffo agree with you there's no such thing as proper ethical phone manufacturers - won't hold breath for the Desire FT (Fair Trade) - I'm more after something not actively evil than something positively good.

To me the dodgy link seems to be the subcontractors. Whilst a company wouldn't do something behind its own gates, it's easier to stomach if it's out of sight and out of mind. In which case is a mobile from a more in-house outfit like Samsung's Galaxy S a better choice (tho not Samsung's other part-YFO supplied models)? Or are they really all the same, and the Samsung/Nokia/Motorola types likely to go the same way as the new outsourcing brands in a short while anyway?



I doubt Samsung make all the parts themselves, but I agree that if they do then they have to take more responsibility for their ethics than those who subcontract as there's no room to pass the buck. This is the same right across the retail industry, the brand always offers good codes of practice but in reality turns a blind eye to subcontractors , and if the subcontractors get caught they just tut and ditch them for another one, until they get caught again ...they tut again and so on. Nike have been doing this successfully since late 1980s , they get caught out nearly every year, they say sorry, everyone thinks they've cleaned up and they do it again. They have switched suppliers dozens of times, and I bet my life they will get caught out again before the year is out. People forget easily. To some extent there is a truth in this, they can't ever know what their subcontractors really do with their profits which is why I have campaigned for european manufacturers to never use third world suppliers until the countries national human rights laws are in line with ours and stricly enforced (this includes not manufacturing in China,India or Taiwan). It means no super cheap products, but it does put pressure on govnts to clean up their act and it could happen pretty quickly if only we could get retail, and consumers to refuse to trade until such time. Are there any european manufactured phones, there is less likely to be an issue with those. I remember when Casio was famous for being manufactured in Japan, which has fairly decent human rights record. Now nearly all their products are manufactured in china. There are few western manufacturers of anything now. Even Bosch have stopped making products in Germany. Let me know if you find any tho.

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