Shopping for a gadget is fun, right? We look at an array of products on a shelf, pick the one that speaks to us, and drop it in our cart.
What do you really know about your purchase?
In this post, I want to raise some questions. I will provide Shift Sight's answers in the next post.
Factories are Hard Labor
Let’s start at the cradle. Factories are hard work. Works-in-progress fly by workers at high speed. Keep up or you are out on the street. Labor standards abroad can be dismal; 12 or 16 hour shifts are customary.
Our present ideals originated with Frederic Taylor and his scientific management approach: if we can measure a worker, we can standardize how long each station and each step should require, and we can improve the time. Therefore, factory throughput can be predicted and controlled. By doing so, we completely neglect the immeasurable human elements.
Some heartbreaking cases (worker suicide in China) are screaming at us: the system is broken. It is disheartening that “process improvements” increase someone’s misery.
How would you feel if a label on an electronic product told you the average suicide rate at the factory where it was produced? What if it told you the average shift length required per worker? Would it change how you buy?
What Goes in? What Comes Out?
Factories need raw materials, electricity, and clean water. It is next to impossible to get data on what is used to produce a particular gadget. Is this really the best idea? Clean water is scarce in some places and is a life-threatening problem. But you, as a customer, cannot even see how much clean water was needed to make a product.
We label our food. You can comparison shop according to ingredients, reported measurables (calories, fat, etc.), or country of origin.
We see none of these on electronic products, save country of origin. I cannot pick up the two latest smartphones from the shelf and choose the one with lower arsenic content. I have no idea what byproducts were created by each factory either.
What if you could comparison shop by labels on electronic gadgets? Would you still buy the same brand, knowing it uses twice as many natural resources as another?
How Long Will it Last?
Our food has a stale date. We may even compare two heads of cauliflower to choose the freshest one, since we perceive that it will be better for us – or, conversely, it is less likely to make us sick.
Some companies artificially shorten the lifespan of their products. This is hypothetically equivalent to a store that would open their unsold bags of bread on the shelf to open air. They would do this in the hope that it grows mold before you can finish eating the full loaf. After all, they want you to come back to buy another.
How would you feel if your new electronic gadget had a product label that provided an estimate for its life? Not a warranty number, but a longevity number that encourages manufacturers to compete for your dollar.
Where Did Things go Wrong?
We are generally careful about what we consume. We read our food labels. But we do not even have an option to choose carefully (via a product label) for what we ask the Earth to consume. This is where technology for the sake of technology has led us.
Shift Sight's website reminds us that electronic waste is the fastest growing, most carcinogenic waste stream. It threatens to kill us all. And despite this, we do not even have a simple, common electronic product label that would encourage responsibility – responsibility toward workers and toward the environment.
Once Jade is in production, Shift Sight will provide full transparency of our factory. We do not know if we will be able to pursue legislation for product labeling, but we will start the conversation with the public. If it is your will, we will fight for you.
In the next post, I will discuss our answers to the questions I posed above and also write about a Teal factory. It is an environment that praises, trusts, and empowers the factory worker. Without these people, there is no product.
Ty is a Founder of Shift Sight, LLC.