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"Seiri, Seiton, Seisō, Seiketsu, Shitsuke and Safety"
April 15, 2010 12:03 PM   Subscribe

The National Labor Committee, a watchdog group that investigates working conditions at foreign factories producing goods for US corporations, has released a report on the KYE Factory in Guangdong, China. KYE manufactures outsourced products for Microsoft (their biggest customer), HP, Best Buy, Samsung, Foxconn, Acer, Logitech, and ASUS. The report focuses heavily on the workers producing Microsoft products. In response, Microsoft says they will investigate the allegations, as their vendor code of conduct (pdf) bans much of the abuses uncovered by the report. Photo Slideshow / NLC report summary posted by zarq (55 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
The current report follows one released by the NLC last year, "High Tech Misery in China" which documented abuse of workers at the Meitai factory, (they produce keyboards and other equipment for Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Lenovo, Microsoft and IBM,) in southern China.

As a result, each company issued responses and an Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) probe was launched, although I've been unable to find any subsequent report they may have issued online.

Apple has also been the subject of a report which says they use a Chinese factory whose workers endure similar conditions.
posted by zarq at 12:04 PM on April 15, 2010


Yeah, but what about open source software? I heard those guys don't get paid ANYTHING.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:33 PM on April 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


STILL this stuff?? Amazing. And they still hire as many women as possible...man, that is depressing.
posted by circular at 12:42 PM on April 15, 2010


You mean to say deregulation doesn't automatically produce utopian conditions?
posted by yeloson at 12:42 PM on April 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


And as a nice contrast, here's a photo of Bill Gates' home.

Rot in hell, motherfucker.
posted by serazin at 12:45 PM on April 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Previously.

(Also, why you didn't put the contents of your first comment in the post?)
posted by kmz at 12:47 PM on April 15, 2010


I work all day in a factory
Building a machine that's not for me
There must be a reason that I can't see...
posted by fixedgear at 12:49 PM on April 15, 2010


haha, yeah opensource people must all be malnurished, extremely unhappy people with no leisure time and without gainful employment with good benefits.

Sad that in our country we have people with so much leisure time and nutrition they can develop such wonderful things as opensource programs, and the hardware they use is hand cobbled together by teenagers with no freedom of movement, prosperity or opportunity whatsoever, its a form of slavery without direct association (there is a middle man so it's ok!). (slavery is a strong word, I am not comparing it to US-African slavery by any means, but certainly the workers are not fairly paid for their contributions).

How long will it take to equal this unbalance? The first world literally has a strangle hold on some aspects of third world and we can joke about it all we want, but its a serious problem for anyone concerned with equal rights of all people.

Vows (once again...after falling off this wagon several times) not buy electronic gizmo junk unnecessarily. Uggh, I actually own a wireless mouse, but I swear, before that it was a serial-mouse that was practically dead...ugh, I should have fixed it tho.
posted by lonelid at 12:51 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


heh, I especially love how the sixth S is "safety" (written in English). Because, of course, the Chinese word for "safety" (安全) doesn't start with an S sound... and we can't have that in our horrid, fifteen-hour-a-day sweatshop!
posted by vorfeed at 12:51 PM on April 15, 2010


(Also, why you didn't put the contents of your first comment in the post?)

Because I screwed up.

While editing and cleaning up the post's html, I cut those paragraphs to my clipboard. Was trying to figure out if I should paste them before or after the NYTimes link, then hit post instead of preview by accident.

It made more sense to then put them in the first comment than to trouble a mod to fix what I had done.

Luckily, all the links worked in the post at that point. If I'd made that same mistake a couple of minutes prior, it wouldn't have been pretty.
posted by zarq at 12:52 PM on April 15, 2010


I had also planned to rewrite the beginning so the report's allegations of abuse would show up earlier. Fatigue makes for crappy mistakes.
posted by zarq at 12:56 PM on April 15, 2010


BTW, thank you kmz, for pointing out the previously. I should have thought to search for Foxconn, but didn't.

Also, if anyone is interested, the first link in the "Related Posts" at the bottom of this page is incredible: "Workers of the world."
posted by zarq at 1:00 PM on April 15, 2010


as their vendor code of conduct (pdf) bans much of the abuses uncovered by the report.

How much money does Microsoft make off the products made there? Are we supposed to believe they couldn't afford to send a couple guys over to monitor production themselves?
posted by delmoi at 1:01 PM on April 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


bottom of this page is incredible: "Workers of the world."

It's actually "Workshop of the world"

posted by delmoi at 1:03 PM on April 15, 2010


And as a nice contrast, here's a photo of Bill Gates' home.

Rot in hell, motherfucker.


The entire tech industry is complicit. What did you type that comment on?

heh, I especially love how the sixth S is "safety" (written in English). Because, of course, the Chinese word for "safety" (安全) doesn't start with an S sound... and we can't have that in our horrid, fifteen-hour-a-day sweatshop!

Um, none of the rest of those words are Chinese either.
posted by kmz at 1:04 PM on April 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


Chinese factory assurances about workplace standards are worthless. If you are contracting manufactured goods in China, there will be unsafe and inhumane workplace standards. If you don't like that, your only choices are to build your own plant or go elsewhere. No Chinese factory owner is going to cut into his own profit to meet workplace standards that he doesn't understand or doesn't care about.

This is a lesson I learned from living in China. It's as true in a white collar office as it is when ordering a special meal in a restaurant: generally speaking, if people don't understand WHY you're requesting something, and agree with the reasoning behind the request, they will agree to it and then ignore it.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:07 PM on April 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


Honestly, people: Does anybody really believe that we're getting these miraculous, insanely complicated machines at the prices we're getting them at, and that everyone in the supply chain is being treated fairly, justly? Really?

Of course not. Fake Steve Jobs:
We all know that there’s no fucking way in the world we should have microwave ovens and refrigerators and TV sets and everything else at the prices we’re paying for them. There’s no way we get all this stuff and everything is done fair and square and everyone gets treated right. No way. And don’t be confused — what we’re talking about here is our way of life. Our standard of living. You want to “fix things in China,” well, it’s gonna cost you. Because everything you own, it’s all done on the backs of millions of poor people whose lives are so awful you can’t even begin to imagine them, people who will do anything to get a life that is a tiny bit better than the shitty one they were born into, people who get exploited and treated like shit and, in the worst of all cases, pay with their lives.
We can afford this stuff at all because Chinese labour is de-facto property and civil and human rights there are a sick joke. If you can figure out how to respond to that disaster or even just this comment, using a computer that doesn't make you entirely complicit in that disaster, please tell me how.
posted by mhoye at 1:09 PM on April 15, 2010 [6 favorites]


It's actually "Workshop of the world"

Dear AskMe: My Metafilter Accuracy Index is being destroyed by my insomniac toddlers. Please hope me?
posted by zarq at 1:09 PM on April 15, 2010


kmz, I think she's referring to this image from the report.
posted by zarq at 1:11 PM on April 15, 2010


The other problem is that so many of these products are composed of components made elsewhere. Even if the factory that puts the final keyboard together is run ethically, who knows about the components.

Um, none of the rest of those words are Chinese either.

They sounded Japanese to me, here's what I googled up:
"5S" was invented in Japan, and stands for five (5) Japanese words that start with the letter 'S': Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke. Table 1 shows what these individual words mean.
...
Seiri - Tidiness, Seiton - Orderliness, Seiso - Cleanliness, Seiketsu - Standardization, Shitsuke -Discipline
posted by delmoi at 1:12 PM on April 15, 2010


How much money does Microsoft make off the products made there? Are we supposed to believe they couldn't afford to send a couple guys over to monitor production themselves?

The report mentions how KYE handles outside audits:
Management instructs the workers to "answer the clients' questions very carefully." They should say they never work more than 12 hours a day and overtime is less than 36 hours a month. Workers are told to respond they are "very satisfied" when asked about working conditions, their dorms and meals. To make this sound even more "authentic," workers are told to "spontaneously" mention other factories where they had worked in the past, where conditions were "awful." They are more "hopeful" now that that they are working at KYE.
Though, I'm sure there's willful blindness going on too. But this is throughout the tech industry. You really think Apple or Sony or Lenovo (ha!) is any better? I don't really know what the solution to this problem could be. You can't even get a computer that's not made up of parts made in these kind of deplorable conditions. Maybe if the US and Japan and Europe got tough with regulations on the source of products parts, but we know that's not going to happen.
posted by kmz at 1:14 PM on April 15, 2010


Funny, the last place I worked at that used the 5-S system was also extremely exploitative. I had dust-covered ants falling from the ceiling onto my desk all day while I worked, and until I learned the back-of-a-CD trick, I had no idea that my boss spent minutes at a time hiding behind a plant and watching me work.

5-S as a system might be great, but it can also seem like a complete mockery under different circumstances.
posted by circular at 1:19 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Audits?? The point was, Microsoft makes a fuckjillion dollars. Send a team of American Compliance Experts over there PERMANENTLY and make them work in the factory.
posted by spicynuts at 1:19 PM on April 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Um, none of the rest of those words are Chinese either.

With the exceptions of "shitsuke" and "safety", all are Chinese words when written in hanzi, as on the poster in the link. They're not pronounced the same as in Japanese, but they're certainly Chinese words.

on preview: thanks, zarq.
posted by vorfeed at 1:19 PM on April 15, 2010


I don't personally think Apple or Sony are any better. I think they're all a bunch of motherfuckers and that when possible we should buy used and avoid jumping on the latest tech trend, and continue to use our consumer power to pressure our government for better regulation, and to pressure these companies and their millionaire CEOs to take responsibility.
posted by serazin at 1:23 PM on April 15, 2010


Ah, I hadn't noticed the poster. Though, I can't read Chinese worth shit anymore (sorry Mom) but I think at least some of the other phrases don't start with an S sound in Mandarin at least.
posted by kmz at 1:24 PM on April 15, 2010


my boss spent minutes at a time hiding behind a plant and watching me work.

Holy hell that's just creepy as fuck.
posted by kmz at 1:25 PM on April 15, 2010


Though, I can't read Chinese worth shit anymore (sorry Mom) but I think at least some of the other phrases don't start with an S sound in Mandarin at least.

Yeah, I don't think so, either, having double-checked. The whole 5S/6S thing seems more than a little ridiculous when applied to languages other than Japanese... "Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain" is apparently commonly used, despite being both silly and seemingly meaningless. Who comes up with this stuff?
posted by vorfeed at 1:31 PM on April 15, 2010


We all know that there’s no fucking way in the world we should have microwave ovens and refrigerators and TV sets and everything else at the prices we’re paying for them. There’s no way we get all this stuff and everything is done fair and square and everyone gets treated right. No way.
You know, frankly I think that's just bullshit. How much would it really add to the price to treat workers well? One thing the Chinese do to save cost is put their workers in dormitories, so their food and living expenses are covered. I realize that might not be fun but it's hardly abuse.

Does coffee made from fair trade beans cost any more then regular coffee? No. Not at all. It's just a few pennies they're saving by doing this. Those pennies add up when you're selling millions of units. But the customers would never notice.

It's like putting HCFS instead of Sugar in pop. Now I personally don't have a problem with HCFS, but this is just an example. The cost savings for putting HCFS in pop is on the order of 5¢ a can or something.(I don't know the exact figure, I just remember hearing that somewhere)

So 5¢ a can. Would customers even notice that extra 5¢ Probably not, they're mostly already paying that much in a can deposit anyway. No one would say that adding 5¢ to their pop would "RUIN THEIR WAY OF LIFE". (People are probably more offended by calling it "pop" instead of "soda" :P)

When iSuppli did an iPad teardown they estimated the cost to make the device was $260 or so. Would "our way of life" be ruined if the iPad cost $270 instead of $260 to make? Obviously not. (In fact, isn't Apple doing more to make sure that it's workers are better treated now after the issues at Foxconn?)

--

So in a lot of ways, this argument that "our way of life" is threatened by fair trade is just pure bullshit. It's an argument designed to lull people into a Stupor. "Oh, are you worried about poor mistreated workers!? WELL DO YOU WANT TO PAY $600 FOR A NETBOOK?"

It's the same with global warming "Oh, we'd have to change our whole lives, bla bla bla. We need to sacrifice". It's just an argument that really only serves to make people afraid of solutions. Especially since economic growth means we will be even more wealthy then we are, just slightly less more wealthy then if we were able to keep on going without any problems. (Obviously consequences of unabated global warming will have an impact on the economy as well! -- this is a somewhat complicated thing to explain in one paragraph).

But compared to stopping global warming, the costs associated with treating workers fairly is far less.
posted by delmoi at 1:33 PM on April 15, 2010 [12 favorites]


Rot in hell, motherfucker.

Really? As much as I may not like him, and as little as I know about you, I can say without any doubt Bill Gates has helped and done far more for the poor of the world than you, even if we don't look at the millions of people he's employed and the billions of dollars of wealth he's created for the nation. He's among the most generous and pragmatic of philanthropists, and I think you're mean.

If Bill fucking Gates can't have a awesome fucking house, who the hell can?
posted by floam at 1:46 PM on April 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


on preview: thanks, zarq.

You're very welcome.

My own knowledge of Chinese is limited to a few scattered phrases. (Mostly obscene, thanks to growing up in New York with many Cantonese-speaking friends and three girlfriends) I can tell the difference visually between hanzi, kanji and hangul, and that's about it. :)
posted by zarq at 1:53 PM on April 15, 2010


Yeah. Bill Gates may be a ruthless businessman but he (probably mostly due to the influence of Melinda) has done more philanthropy than maybe any other individual in history.
You can fault Bill for plenty of things but indifference to the poor isn't one of them.

Here is a bullet point list of grant activity from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website.

Illustrative Grant Commitments

* The GAVI Alliance, expanding childhood immunization - $1.5 billion
* United Negro College Fund, Gates Millennium Scholars Program - $1.37 billion
* Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), improving seeds and soil for African farmers - $456 million
* Rotary International, polio eradication - $355 million
* PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) - $287 million
* Save the Children, Saving Newborn Lives - $112 million
* United Way of King County - $85 million
* World Food Programme, increasing small farmer income - $66 million
* TechnoServe, helping small coffee farmers improve crops and fetch higher prices - $47 million
* Heifer International, helping small farmers grow local and regional dairy markets - $43 million
* Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI), a coalition of countries from the developing world making savings accounts, insurance, and other financial services available to people living on less than $2 a day - $35 million
* Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), testing and promoting the use of information and communications technologies to deliver microfinance products - $24 million
* Achieve, Inc. and the American Diploma Project Network, assisting states in aligning high school standards with the expectations of college and career - $23 million
* Opportunity Online Program, multiple library systems - $16.4 million
* Opportunity International Inc., developing and expanding a network of commercial banks in Africa - $15.4 million
* Gateway to College, expanding a program that enables colleges to serve students who need remedial academic help - $7.28 million
* Building Changes, helping create the Washington Families Fund and supporting efforts in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties to reduce family homelessness - $17.5 million

posted by Babblesort at 1:58 PM on April 15, 2010 [7 favorites]


Delmoi, the link you provided states that the manufacturing cost of the iPad is about 9$. The FPP article states that the average worker in an electronics assembly facility makes less than a dollar an hour. But their employer probably saves a great deal more than just that US-China wage disparity on workers because they treat them like machines, and also because the regulatory environment in China is less expensive for businesses to operate in than that of the US. If the whole picture were to change in such a way as to meet what we consider basic levels of responsibility and fair treatment, the cost of an iPad might rise by more than ten dollars.
posted by clockzero at 1:59 PM on April 15, 2010


Rot in hell, motherfucker.

Let him at least finish trying to vaccinate the world first.
posted by KathrynT at 2:42 PM on April 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Delmoi, the link you provided states that the manufacturing cost of the iPad is about 9$. The FPP article states that the average worker in an electronics assembly facility makes less than a dollar an hour. But their employer probably saves a great deal more than just that US-China wage disparity on workers because they treat them like machines
Well, there are two issues here. The first is the breakdown of how much of those costs are labor, and how much other other expenses. The fact is, a lot of the assembly is going to be automated. Sticking all the components on the board will be done with robots. The only thing humans would have to do is stick the final macro-pieces like the board, battery, frame, etc. And a lot of that could be done mechanically as well.

The other thing is that there is a difference between paying someone a lot of money and treating them fairly. For example, if you doubled the salary from $1 to $2/hr, you would only add an additional $9 to the manufacturing price. The problem isn't the salary it's the treatment. Instead of doubling their salary, you could simply halve the amount of work demanded. According to engadet, the workers work 15 hour shifts, and make an average of 52¢ an hour. If they worked 8 hour shifts, that would be up to $1/hr.

Also, the workers are not allowed to talk or take bathroom breaks, and their dorms don't have showers? How much would it really cost to rectify these problems? Probably not much. Not anywhere close to doubling the labor costs, I would guess.

But by doing these things, they lower their prices by a few cents, and those few cents are enough to win the low bids and get the contracts.

But again, the key point here is that it's not the overall wage paid but rather the treatment and conditions of the workers.

--

And the other thing is that in China workers often live in dormitories. That significantly reduces the cost structure of labor. How much of your paycheck goes to rent or mortgage, food, and other living expenses? Obviously most Americans wouldn't want to work that way, but it does make things cheaper, and there's no reason why the company couldn't provide nice living quarters. According to the engadget summary, at KYE "Fourteen workers share each primitive dorm room, sleeping on narrow double-level bunk beds. To "shower," workers fetch hot water in a small plastic bucket to take a sponge bath. " Obviously that could be improved fairly cheaply.
posted by delmoi at 2:45 PM on April 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


You mean to say deregulation doesn't automatically produce utopian conditions?

Yeah, what we need instead is something like a landmark labor law enforced by a government with unrestricted, perhaps even totalitarian regulatory power.
posted by roystgnr at 2:48 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I doubt companies run to China for manufacturing out of a concern for the wellbeing of its citizens. At least the workers are getting paid; this is as opposed to paying U.S. workers a bit more, and not paying the shipping costs from overseas.

Part of the reason China is a mecca for manufacturing is because they don't have so many legal measures in place for protecting their workers. If they did, it'd drive up costs, up closer to what they'd pay in the U.S. Which would mean more of these companies would use the U.S. for manufacturing, which would ultimately help us out a lot more than getting a bunch of cheap computers.
posted by JHarris at 2:52 PM on April 15, 2010


He's among the most generous and pragmatic of philanthropists

Generous, yes. Pragmatic, maybe. There have been some questions raised by public health researchers about the efficacy of his spending.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:03 PM on April 15, 2010


You know, frankly I think that's just bullshit. How much would it really add to the price to treat workers well?

Civil rights aren't cheap, and safe living conditions aren't anywhere near free. Particularly when you include the infrastructure (laws with teeth, education, regulation, God knows what else) required to make those things work and stick and last. There's a reason these things aren't being made in the US; it's because unaccounted-for externalities in cheap labour are considered a huge, screaming feature, not a mistake at all.


You mean to say deregulation doesn't automatically produce utopian conditions?

Yeah, what we need instead is something like a landmark labor law enforced by a government with unrestricted, perhaps even totalitarian regulatory power.


That's right, there is no possible middle ground to be achieved there.
posted by mhoye at 3:24 PM on April 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


Since sarcasm was not the best way to make my point, I'll state it more simply and see if you agree or not:

Chinese factories are not a modern example of deregulation.
posted by roystgnr at 3:32 PM on April 15, 2010


Yeah. Bill Gates may be a ruthless businessman but he (probably mostly due to the influence of Melinda) has done more philanthropy than maybe any other individual in history.

Not to disparage any charity work Gates has done, but Rockefeller gave away about $500 million by the time he died in the '30s.
Which was equal to roughly .5 percent of the GDP( $92 billion in 1937).
To equal that, Gates would have to give away about $70 billion based on the current GDP of $14 trillion.

He's got a ways to go, but given his stated goal of distributing his fortune to charity, who knows?
posted by madajb at 3:41 PM on April 15, 2010


Except for the apparent absence of brown lung, these Chinese factories are highly reminiscent of the 19th-century textile mills in Lowell and Lawrence.
Conditions in the Lowell mills were severe by modern American standards. Employees worked from five am until seven pm, for an average 73 hours per week. Each room usually had 80 women working at machines, with two male overseers managing the operation. The noise of the machines was described by one worker as "something frightful and infernal", and although the rooms were hot, windows were often kept closed during the summer so that conditions for thread work remained optimal. The air, meanwhile, was filled with particles of thread and cloth.

The investors or factory owners built hundreds of boarding houses near the mills, where textile workers lived year-round. A curfew of 10 pm was common, and men were generally not allowed inside. About 25 women lived in each boardinghouse, with up to six sharing a bedroom. One worker described her quarters as "a small, comfortless, half-ventilated apartment containing some half a dozen occupants". Trips away from the boardinghouse were uncommon; the Lowell girls worked and ate together.
How did those conditions improve? The Labor movement.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:16 PM on April 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Civil rights aren't cheap, and safe living conditions aren't anywhere near free.

How much do you think they cost? I mean, give me a dollar figure here. This is why there's so much bullshit about topics like this. People don't give dollar figures. "It would cost money to fight global warming" or "It would cost money do things right". Well that's not argument the question is how much would it cost. If you can't give me a dollar figure they you're not making an argument

Since the living conditions are paid for by the company, the costs can be low. The reason rents are high isn't because of the cost of the buildings, heating, etc. It's the cost of the underlying property, which has cost because other people want to live there and are willing to buy it. But that isn't an issue so much with company dorms (and remember, construction costs are also going to be much less then in the U.S)

The other things, like giving workers a break every 10 minutes, having them work 8 hours rather then 15 would only cost an additional 72 cents per hour of work. That's not much compared to the overall cost of the products. It's really not.

Again, you can't just say they "aren't cheap" If they aren't cheap, how much do they cost? Seriously.

The cost to the individual customer would be very low, but compared to the millions of units shipped, the costs would be high for the companies.
posted by delmoi at 4:20 PM on April 15, 2010


You're right, it's not deregulation, it's unregulated:

Though China's economy has expanded rapidly, its regulatory environment has not kept pace. Since Deng Xiaoping's open market reforms, the growth of new businesses has outpaced the government's ability to regulate them. This has created a situation where businesses, faced with mounting competition and poor oversight, will be willing to take drastic measures to increase profit margins, often at the expense of consumer safety.

(the lack of any mention about worker safety says something also)

Perhaps if they just need to deregulate the unregulated businesses, and market forces will magically right the situation!
posted by yeloson at 5:24 PM on April 15, 2010


And as a nice contrast, here's a photo of Bill Gates' home.

Rot in hell, motherfucker.


How puerile. You ignore every good thing he has done, forget that he no longer runs MS, and apparently have no understanding of how difficult it is for US companies to police suppliers. Large US companies have much to lose from suppliers using child labor etc. so they work very hard at policing. I know companies who have hired private investigators to pose as employees to monitor a supplier.
posted by caddis at 6:30 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


How puerile. You ignore every good thing he has done, forget that he no longer runs MS

He's still the chairman.
posted by delmoi at 6:44 PM on April 15, 2010


If you can figure out how to respond to that disaster or even just this comment, using a computer that doesn't make you entirely complicit in that disaster, please tell me how.

This isn't a solution by any means, but it's just an idea I had while reading this thread and all the comments about consumers of computers being complicit in sweatshop labor - when that same issue was raised in other industries (clothing and coffee for example), it resulted in the creation of companies whose whole angle was charging a bit more to offset the costs of 100% fair labor practices and advertising that to the consumer, who could then feel good that they weren't supporting slave labor. Would something like that work with computers? Would it even be possible, since a modern computer is made up of so many parts from so many different sources, many of which aren't even produced anymore outside of China? I'm thinking like a hardware extension of the open source philosophy, it could even just be an open platform that third party vendors could sell their own versions of.
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:46 PM on April 15, 2010


companies whose whole angle was charging a bit more to offset the costs of 100% fair labor practices

An important issue here is that the labour component of most goods is actually pretty small. While making things cheap enough that there is demand from Western consumers is important, having the fattest possible margin is even more important. Hence charging a bit more to pay labourers a bit more, or improve their conditions a bit, is an ok solution, but we have to realise that in that case you the punter are basically paying a "conscience premium", no doubt with a further margin to the vendor. For example, we have had fairtrade coffee for years now, and while some farmers are getting a bit more, the real issue is that an effective buying cartel sets prices.

The very large profit margins are something we should be stigmatising along with lobbying for improved minumum wages and conditions everywhere. Leaving it to consumers' consciences is a sop that redefines a deep problem in society as a matter of private choice for a privileged few.

I'm not saying you shouldn't prefer firms who have sound labour practises, but collective action is the only solution to collective problems.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:17 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does coffee made from fair trade beans cost any more then regular coffee? No. Not at all. It's just a few pennies they're saving by doing this. Those pennies add up when you're selling millions of units. But the customers would never notice.

Man. Who's "they"?

The fact that fairtrade coffee costs only marginally more, while providing growers with a fair price for their goods... what does that tell you? That fairness is free? Or that there's somebody in the middle of that transaction taking a huge cut? I mean, I really like the fact that you picked coffee for that example, given that the mainline coffee industry is probably the fourth most exploitative industry in the world after drugs, diamonds and prostitution.

I'm sorry I don't have a precise dollar or yuan value to give you for what social justice costs. I just want to point out that this is a telling example you've picked, and you're being willfully obtuse in several places in this thread; I'm not sure why.
posted by mhoye at 8:29 PM on April 15, 2010


delmoi sed: But again, the key point here is that it's not the overall wage paid but rather the treatment and conditions of the workers.

Right, but I think that to get those things properly addressed you need regulation. Are you suggesting that we can make them treat their workers better by not buying goods from factory owners who behave badly?

Obviously most Americans wouldn't want to work that way, but it does make things cheaper, and there's no reason why the company couldn't provide nice living quarters.

Yes, there is, which is that it costs money and they're not obliged to. How do you propose that they could be inexpensively obliged to do so?
posted by clockzero at 8:29 PM on April 15, 2010


Dude's foundation actually pays my salary, so I have a pretty good sense of both the good he is trying to do in the world, and the harm that even his philanthropic work has caused. Putting aside the abhorrent labor practices that are absolutely preventable (trade one of your personal helicopters in for a full time inspector? With the flick of a wrist, he could guarentee safe working conditions for all workers who make Microsoft goods, but to do so he'd have to stop pretending that you can get fair labor practices for pennies); only looking at the work of the foundation, there are big problems with one unelected guy having such enormous impact on domestic education policy and international health policy. Especially since every potential critic is afraid to speak up. Some troubling examples:

In domestic education policy - the foundation has had enormous impact and we do not yet know if that is for the overall good. In my local school district for example, their money paid to break up almost all of our schools into small schools and charters which are predominantly non-union. Then the grant ended, leaving the schools broke and underresourced as they were before, but this time without the resources that a larger school can share (janitors, college prep classes, etc). PDF

Their nutrition and agriculture programs have been criticized for inappropriately partnering with corporate interests and putting forward a pro-biotech agenda.

In health policy they have been criticized for (indirectly, but effectively) stifling views that contradict their own, failing to use funds in a way that reflects global burdens of disease and failing to support community based health programs or collaborate with other leaders in the field.

And despite negative publicity, the foundation continues to invest in companies that cause the very problems they aim to solve.

So yeah, I don't think his philanthropic work absolves him.

If Bill fucking Gates can't have a awesome fucking house, who the hell can?
If awesome means valued at about 147 million, then my answer is no one. Or no one should.
posted by serazin at 8:56 PM on April 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


Putting aside the abhorrent labor practices that are absolutely preventable (trade one of your personal helicopters in for a full time inspector? With the flick of a wrist, he could guarentee safe working conditions for all workers who make Microsoft goods,

No offense, but this comment displays an uninformed and naive attitude on how inspection regimes are gamed, and seems to suggest that you haven't read some of the links, or better yet, looked a little further afield.

I'm not saying Gates or whomever couldn't fix the problem. But to presume the issue could be resolved sending a few western inspectors ignores the mendacity of factory owners and - crucially - the fact the practically all these companies already pay western inspectors to assess working conditions in these factories.
posted by smoke at 9:55 PM on April 15, 2010


If awesome means valued at about 147 million, then my answer is no one. Or no one should.

Well when I earn my first 300 million, you're so going to be shown what's what when I spend it on my undersea base house. Why shouldn't people who've earned that much money be allowed to splurge it any way they fancy, especially if it's just something nice for themselves and not a huge killer laser beam?
posted by floam at 9:59 PM on April 15, 2010


Man. Who's "they"?
CEO, executives and large stockholders? Duh. It shouldn't be that hard to figure out.
I'm sorry I don't have a precise dollar or yuan value to give you for what social justice costs.
Do you even have a ballpark figure? The problem is that if you don't have any cost estimate, then you don't don't actually have an argument
I just want to point out that this is a telling example you've picked, and you're being willfully obtuse in several places in this thread; I'm not sure why.
Willfully obtuse? Obtuse actually means "stupid", blunt instead of sharp. But people seem to use it like a synonym for "Stubborn." It's rather arrogant to assume I don't agree with you because I don't understand your argument, I don't agree with you because it's not even an argument. You say it would cost "more" but you don't say how much more. Would a netbook cost ten cents more, or $500 more? because it actually makes a difference

I think the prices would only go up by a small amount, and therefore our "lifestyle" is not dependent on these inhumane practices.

Also, what's the deal with people using the word "willfully obtuse" to mean "using numbers and math in an argument"? This is the second time I've heard it used that way.
posted by delmoi at 6:30 AM on April 16, 2010




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