Monthly Archives: September 2009

Protecting Chinese IT workers

Ever heard of the “High-Tech – No Rights?” campaign? It is an initiative started in 2007 by a number of NGOs concerned by the labor conditions of IT workers in China.
The campaigns aims to improve the working conditions of IT workers in China by coupling a top-down and bottom-up approach. In a nutshell, leading IT manufacturers are encouraged to include (and follow) a code of conduct in their corporate social responsibility (CSR) chart. At the same time, workers undergo in-factory labor rights training program in China. While HP and Delta Electronics have already initiated such training programs, other leading manufacturers like Acer, Apple or Dell are yet to join the bandwagon.

The question is of course how “deep in the value chain” such an initiative can reach. Many manufacturers are already working closely with first-tier suppliers to ensure reasonable working conditions. But the real challenge lies in offering similar working conditions to employees working for second-tier and third-tier suppliers in some remote factory, somehere in China.

P.S.: Consumers are of course welcome to make informed choices when buying their next computer

Can China Mobile beat Apple?

Ever heard of Symbian? It is, for the time being, the leading operating system for smart mobile devices and soon to become completely open-source. But competition from Apple’s iPhone may seriously jeopardize its position.

That’s when China Mobile steps in. The Chinese operator promises to offer technology support to the Symbian Foundation – in return, Symbian will support China Mobile’s construction of TD-SCDMA 3G network. And with close to 500 millions subscribers, it is not an insignificant endorsement.

China Mobile’s support is naturally not devoid of interest. Between the battle for an OS and the iPhone’s entry in the Chinese market, the trial of strength between the operator and the manufacturer is far from over.

Power China [2/2]: Solar

While China is catching up with France in terms of nuclear reactors, it seems to pursue alternative energy sources with a similar enthusiasm. Beside wind farms in Inner Mongolia, solar power is getting into the mainstream – according to the World Bank, most water heaters in China are solar thermal heaters and China is said to already produce more than 60% of the world’s solar cells (with plans to expand abroad).

Beijing is using a typical mix of incentives to gain critical mass: governments at all levels are offering solar panel producing firms subsidies - free land, R&D grants – while bank offer very attractive loans.

Unfortunately the battle for an eco-frienly environment is is far from won: the objective to grow the installed capacity from 2GW to 20GW (the equivalent of 20 nuclear reactors…) of solar energy by 2020 is less than half the capacity of coal-fired power plants built annually.

P.S.: China Mobile established the world’s largest solar energy-powered base station cluster in Tibet

Power China [1/2]: Nuclear

China is sourcing its energy demand from increasingly diversifed, both geographically and technologically – a welcome change from its “coal-only” approach – but the country has still a long way to go to balance its energy mix.

Take nuclear energy for instance. During the 90s, the country has only 3 reactors in operation – 2 in Daya Bay and 1 in Qinshan. Today, 11 reactors are running with more than 8 Gigawatt (GW) of installed capacity.

In 2006, nuclear energy accounted for 1.1% of electricity production, nothing in comparison with  thermal’s 77.8% (of which  68.7% from coal…) or even hydro-power’s 20.7%. But 16 new reactors are under construction (for 15 GW) and 34 more (for 32 GW) are planned till 2020. That will place China at par with the world leader France which currently counts 59 reactors and 63GW – just remember that the Chinese population is 200 times larger.

The good news: the country has pledged a 20% reduction of its energy intensity (energy consumption per unit of GDP) by 2010.