The Fairphone—A Good Start at Ethical Hardware

Casey Johnson at Ars Technica (“Fairphone” looks to give power back to customers):

The “Fairphone,” a phone that purports to approach smartphone design in the most ethical way possible from every conceivable angle, opened for preorders last Friday. The phone uses only conflict-free resources wherever possible, it has an open design, and it is marketed in a transparent way to customers.

Starting small.  Android only, Europe only, and about $400.  As a product, it probably won’t have a huge impact in and of itself. Hopefully it will serve as a very successful proof-of-concept that we can do tech in a way that both respects everyone involved (trying to improve practices along the way) and is financially viable.


© Fairphone

Apple and Foxconn Commit Some Cash

How much and in what percentage is unclear, but according to John Ruwitch at Reuters:

Apple Inc and its key supplier Foxconn Technology Group will share the initial costs of improving labor conditions at the Chinese factories that assemble iPhones and iPads, Foxconn’s top executive said on Thursday.

Good start, this.  Unfortunate, though, that it is not being covered more in the popular press.  Clearly, the public is not interested any longer.  That means that any hope that there ever was—even a small amount—of pressure being exerted on other tech companies to improve their labor practices has evaporated.

Where’d Everybody Go?

As a quick followup to the Apple/Nike piece, consider Nick Bilton’s recent blog post over at the New York Times.  It is entitled “Disruptions: Too Much Silence on Working Conditions.”  In the wake of Apple’s troubles with worker issues at Foxconn plants, he notes the continuing silence of  other tech companies that use Foxconn to manufacture their products.

In the last week I have asked Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Microsoft and others about their reports on labor conditions. Most responded with a boilerplate public relations message. Some didn’t even respond.


Apple’s “Nike Moment”

In their April 13-26 edition, the National Catholic Reporter published a piece that I wrote on the explosion of press about labor rights issues at the manufacturing facilities of Foxconn, the company that makes many of Apple’s most popular devices.  The article compares Apple with Nike, which has had its share of labor problems starting in the 1990s.

As a brand, [Nike] evoked the best in American culture: commitment, achievement, competitiveness, cool, and a sense of fair play. But as tales of their rights abuses spread, Nike became a cultural symbol of everything that was wrong with capitalism and globalization.

Unlike Nike, though, Apple seems to have made it out of the controversy unscathed.  But how?  The piece reflects on some of the dynamics involved in the case, as well as some of the long term implications.

Who pays the cost of shipping?

It’s Good Friday today, the day that Christians mark (“celebrate” seems wrong, somehow) the suffering and death of Jesus. Whether or not you think Jesus is the savior, it makes for a good time to reflect on who ends up suffering for things they never did wrong.

This morning, the Catholic Moral Theology blog published a piece I wrote on the lives of warehouse workers. Over the past year, there have been some great investigative pieces by journalists on conditions for workers in warehouses for online shopping companies. The most recent, “I Was A Warehouse Wage Slave” by Mother Jones’s labor rights reporter Mac McClelland, is a great, but sad, read. It is a must for anyone who buys stuff online a lot.


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