Monday, February 6, 2012

Is anything NOT made in China?

I intend to research this for myself, but I thought I'd ask here first.

Recent news articles have exposed the terrible, sometimes fatal, working conditions imposed on workers who assemble Apple's iPhones and iPads in China. These articles have implicated Foxconn and many other Apple contractors in China, who pay their workers horribly, force them to endure long hours working in dangerous and unhealthy conditions, and more or less treat them as disposable supplies, like paper towels.

Apple has yet to respond in a way acceptable to socially conscious consumers; however, Apple's products have enough going for them that consumers are still buying them. That may change, if Apple does not quickly show some sense of social responsibility.  You read it here first, folks. But that's not the main thrust of this article.

Apple is not the only company to find itself in this predicament, with a popular and competitively priced product line, completely dependent on China for its manufacture. As I have said before, you cannot buy a small kitchen appliance right now that is not made in China. After this weekend, I will add that you cannot buy a men's suit for under $500.00 that is not made in China. Can you buy a flat-screen television that is not made in China? How about a smartphone?

Let's focus on smartphones for a minute. The largest (and maybe the only) viable competitor to the iOS smartphone right now is the Android smartphone. Two of the largest makers of Android-based smartphones are Samsung and LG, followed by Motorola, HTC, and the rest of the gang. Here's a serious question: Which Android-based smartphones are NOT made in China?

Samsung and LG are Korean labels. A South Korean businessman recently told me that iPhones make up 26% of the South Korean smartphone market, while Android phones make up the other 74%, with the  majority of those Android phones being Samsung. Are Samsung smartphones made in Korea? What about LG smartphones? Searching for the word "China" in their Wikipedia entries comes up with zero.

(Another big unanswered question: Can we assume correctly that working conditions in Korea are better than they are in China?)

And what about Nokia? Well, Nokia is a Finnish label.  That's right, one of the most reliable names in the cellular phone business is headquartered in the tiny (but very advanced!) country of Finland. According to Wikipedia, two of Nokia's nine manufacturing facilities are in China. But Nokia phones don't run Android. They still run Symbian, though some ran Linux for a bit and they're all slated to run MS Phone 7 starting in late 2011.

One of Nokia's subsidiaries is a relatively unknown company called Vertu. Vertu makes "luxury" smartphones by hand, out of the finest materials, in its factory in England. The screen is a thin sheet of clear, transparent, single-crystal sapphire. Each key is individually machined from a chunk of sapphire. All of the apps are custom-written, and they run on Symbian. Okay, so this one counts as "not made in China," but you won't find very many Vertu phones on the street. They start at about US$5000.

Does that leave Samsung and LG as the only smartphone choices for the socially responsible consumer? (And, as it turns out, for the environmentally responsible consumer - both manufacturers have been recognized for their environment-friendly practices.)

LET'S BROADEN THE DISCUSSION:  What about children's toys? Printed books? Flat-screen televisions? Stereos and home entertainment systems (even the ones with Japanese names)? Computer hardware? Dishes and cutlery? Automotive parts? Automotive accessories? Hand tools? Power tools? What can we buy today that is not made in China?

Please hit the Comment link and add to the discussion. Don't be scared off by the Captcha thingy or my comment-moderation policy. If you're not a spammer or a Net loon, your comment will be posted within a few hours.


Anonymous said...

This is the mark of the beast, and now noone can live without get involved in this evil, unless you can live apart from everthing. What people dont see is that in some years China will be their bosses, they will buy debt from all countries and own them, will lower the laboral privilegies we have now and will make more slaves. Meanwhile people dont care and just care about themselves.

Anonymous said...

Samsung and LG both are manufacted in China, Samsung use Foxconn as Apple does. LG exploits their workers in China too.

Zyzmog said...

Last week it was revealed that the uniforms for the U.S. Olympics team, although designed by Ralph Lauren, were made in China. The outcry was satisfying. RL and the U.S. Olympics committee were terribly embarrassed and very apologetic. We'll see, in two and four years, how sincere they are.

I bought a nice Italian suit a couple of months ago. Imagine my disappointment when I found that it, too, was made in China.