High-tech companies can no longer ignore human rights issues

Alleged abuse of workers in Samsung’s Brazilian plant raise global concern (photo: AFP/File, Yasuyoshi Chiba)

At first it was Apple, with investigations into working conditions at Foxconn plants manufacturing iPhones. Now Samsung is facing a fine of over $100 million by Brazil for conditions in its plants there. The AFP reports the allegations of the Brazilian Ministry of Labor that

“…employees at the factory worked up to 15 hours a day, including 10 hours on their feet, and sometimes for 27 days straight. … According to a report on the website of the Tribuna Hoje newspaper, individual workers at the plant are given just six seconds to place a phone with its battery, charger, earphones and instruction manual in its packaging. Individual workers can repeat this process up to 6,800 times a shift. The newspaper report said workers were given 4.8 seconds to place a television in its cardboard packaging while the assembly of a smartphone — involving dozens of workers on a production line — was clocked at 85 seconds.”

Samsung can’t say that this is just an issue related to one plant either. China Labor Watch has previously recorded worker abuse and the use of child labor at six Samsung factories and two suppliers.

The issue of fair labor and human rights concerns in foreign trade is hardly new. Elizabeth Cline’s bestselling “Overdressed” exposed the conditions found in clothing factories, especially those producing cheap “fast fashion” clothes that are designed to last only about a season. The book and news surrounding it led some retailers to change tactics. H&M, one of the designers which Cline focused on in her book, actually came to recognize the ethical trade movement and created a line of clothes made using more environmentally- and worker-friendly means.

Now is the time to recognize the same concerns in high tech products. Google is ahead of the game in choosing to build its new MotoX in a brand new Ft. Worth, TX factory rather than overseas. Hopefully more manufacturers can recognize this and follow suit.

Conscious consumers can also choose to not upgrade their phones to new models or choose to buy refurbished used phones. In the same way that buying used clothing and keeping clothes for longer can decrease demand for sweatshop products and cause change to the industry, finding other options besides buying a new device can influence the tech sector to improve their labor practices.

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Posted on August 14, 2013, in Tech News and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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