A bit less than a month ago the thought irrupted violently into my mind: where do all these things come from? I meant the electronic devices such as computers, cellphones, speakers, earphones, etc, etc. I took a look; most of them had been made in China. They could have been assembled or designed elsewhere in the USA or the EU, but the core manufacturing process was still done in 'that emerging country'.
So I wondered: if I wanted, could I get a computer with parts which had been manufactured exclusively in the EU? I began to search for EU component manufacturers and meanwhile I threw an open question in Twitter:
Does anyone know of computer/electronics stuff made in the EU? (NOT assembled in the EU)
Only Andy Lemon was able (or willing?) to answer! Unfortunately he was going more into the prototyping, embedded systems and robotics direction, which wasn't what I meant. My goal was simple, but still, it seemed unattainable.
All my searches were fruitless. It seems there are no manufacturers of commonly required computing devices in the Western world.
The chip designs might have been done in the UK (for example, ARM, whose processors are powering most of the smartphones in use, has its basis in Cambridge) or the USA (Intel, AMD), but ARM doesn't manufacture anything (only licenses designs), and I have yet to see an Intel processor whose box doesn't reveal a "Made in China" label.
Same for the hard drives. The only non-Far East hard drive manufacturing companies I could find were Seagate (Ireland based, but manufacturing in Singapore), and Western Digital (California based, but manufacturing in Thailand). As for the rest, Hitachi is Japanese; same with Toshiba, and both manufacture in Asia, as one could expect.
I could go on and on, but it seems pointless to keep searching for computer parts made in the EU if you don't have a processor and/or hard drive.
And from what I have been investigating, it seems to have always been like that, even in the golden computing era when British companies dominated the home-computers market (Sinclair, Amstrad, BBC Micro...): the computers might have been designed in the UK, but their components were of Asian origin.
Even worse, this is not the 80's any more; we have now a huge industry which entirely relies on technology: Information Technology, or IT for the friends. Yet it surprised me to realise we are fully dependant on the Far East for these matters. Had all the Far East nations decide to constitute an Anti Western World Alliance and decline to provide us with our beloved electronic equipment, what would we do?! The horror!
All these devices have to be assembled and packaged somehow, at an extremely low price, so that the Western companies have a good margin to boast about to their board of investors. Now, replace 'somehow' with
in huge plants where thousands of people are crammed in together like herd and paid next to nothing by the hour, and you'll get a better view of what I mean.
I'm sure most of you have heard of the Foxconn manufacturing plant where Dell, Apple and Microsoft (for example) get their cheap tat manufactured, packaged and converted into expensive gadgets while submitting their workers to modern slavery. You haven't? There you go. Surely that's only the tip of the iceberg.
And this is when one realises that manufacturing technology in the EU (or the USA, depending on where you live) is not just a whimsical, closed-minded idea that I just happened to have, but it reveals itself as series of ethical and ecological issues instead: Do we want to keep funding this hypocrisy? Is it really sustainable? What's stopping us from manufacturing our own technology in our own countries? Manufacturer's greed? Isn't it possible to balance workers' rights and companies' profit? Or is it a lack of raw materials?
Ultimately it all boils down to a single question: can we do anything about it?