Daily Reaction: The True Price of Cheap Technology

Chinese technology manufacturer Foxconn is infamous due to the multiple labor scandals that have arisen in recent history, with news stories generally focusing on how the company supplies Apple. But Foxconn also manufactures the PlayStation 3, 360 and Wii U. Should we make more of a protest about what happens in the name of cost cutting? Daily Reaction discusses.

Seb: When you start looking into what is going on behind the scenes just to manufacture something like a games console, which is purely an entertainment product, it’s sickening. Today, Foxconn was uncovered to have been secretly employing child laborers in its factories, with their teachers allegedly threatened them by saying “if you don’t intern, then you won’t get any credit, won’t receive a graduation diploma, or may even be kicked out of school.”

In the past, there have been reports of suicides at Foxconn – the most recent of which was in June – due to the horrible working conditions at the company. There have been reports of strikes, riots, racism, illegal overtime and worker abuse. A report by twenty Chinese universities described Foxconn factories as labor camps. It’s inhuman, horrible, and all to simply make the price of devices like PlayStations or iPhones a little lower.

And that’s not all – where the actual materials come from is sometimes even more horrific. The need for columbite-tantalite (coltan) on the PlayStation 2 (as well as other electronics) led to a brutal war in the Congo that was even termed ‘The PlayStation War’. Thankfully, Sony now “takes steps to ensure that it does not use coltan illegally obtained from Congo“ and there are more restrictions in place, but it is still not enough. The group Raise Hope For Congo lists some of the best and worst tech companies, putting Sony in the middle for taking some steps like joining the Public Private Alliance, but that it still hasn’t identified all the smelters in its supply chain. Nintendo are also on the list, right at the bottom, as the company has recently been in a scandal showing that ‘blood minerals’ are used in its gaming products.

I urge you to go to that site and fill out a quick form to let Sony (and other tech companies) know that they can’t do this.

Dan: The thing to remember is that companies like Sony who use resources derived from illegitimate sources like Foxconn or from Congo smelters, rarely know the history behind them. As it is nearly impossible to backtrack the source of materials used in products these days, as they contain components from multiple sources from around the world. As is stated from a Sony representative:

“The material suppliers source their original material from multiple mines in various countries. It is therefore hard for us to know what the supply chain mix is…I am happy to state to you that to the best of our knowledge, is not using the material about which you have expressed concern.”

The one thing that is hopefully a light at the end of this very dark tunnel, is that there are other sources for these companies to use to obtain components. Coltan is an ore found also in North America, Russia, and parts of Europe, so the reliance to utilize locations such as the Congo are not limited. Also, as the issues facing using Foxconn as a chain in the construction of components is something that could easily be fixed, as the spotlight is now on the company.

Sadly, none of this helps the people who are going through these difficult times, and are still stuck dealing with these problems. As companies like Sony, Apple, and Nintendo are still responsible for the companies they do business with, there should be no leniency given to them no matter how difficult it is to track the source. Sony really needs to just move to different sources, as turning a blind eye is no longer an option. Just we, as consumers, need to eventually realize the cost that is paid for us to save a few dollars is going to be paid for by someone, and no price is worth someone else’s life.

Seb: I wouldn’t say it’s simply a matter of too great a difficulty for Sony, they (and other tech companies) either know about the atrocities being carried out for their products, or they don’t want to know so that they have plausible deniability. Buzzfeed simply asked Sony and some other companies whether they allowed independent auditors to check on their supplier’s factories. After a month, Sony didn’t reply.

Apple only began to allow it after public pressure gave them little recourse, and equally had to recently take several steps to improve working conditions at Foxconn after an excellent piece by the New York Times and subsequent pressure from the public. Nintendo only started to cut down on the use of blood minerals (still by far too little a degree) after a recent barrage of poor press and campaigns by activist groups.

But I’m not naive, as long as these companies can get away with it they will. The only way they’ll stop is if they think the poor publicity from the use of blood minerals or the terrible working conditions in factories is worse financially than the money they save. We all need to campaign more, be more proactive, go on Sony sites and comment on it, email Sony representatives. Let them know that this cannot stand.

Dan: I agree that there probably are parts of these companies that really are turning a blind eye to the blight that people from other countries are going through. Yet, I do not think that as a company anyone will stand behind what is going on behind the scenes. The process, and ability to properly communicate within corporations is more difficult than most people understand. As each person close to the supply chain becomes more worried about their own job, and the finger of responsibility gets pushed around, the ability for correct information to flow quickly through a company is impossible. Although, again none of this is to deny responsibility from any of these companies, especially Sony, it is just a factor of reality that most people seem to miss as they raise arms.

Even with all of that said, we still need to band together and push these corporations into action. We as consumers really are the driving force of the world these days, and our ability to change the world and people’s minds comes from what we decide to do with our hard earned cash. As it sadly does take too much time for those higher up the chain to realize that those responsible are not taking action, and the longer we let these atrocities linger, the more lives that are going to be lost and destroyed.