Sweden exports sweatshops: Ikea’s first American factory

World-beating tax-cheats Ikea have a reputation for being a great employer in Sweden; but in America, their first factory is a model sweatshop, with rock-bottom wages, mandatory overtime, abusive vacation policies, and forced reeducation meetings for employees who support forming a union:

Some of the Virginia plant’s 335 workers are trying to form a union. The International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said a majority of eligible employees had signed cards expressing interest.

In response, the factory — part of Ikea’s manufacturing subsidiary, Swedwood — hired the law firm Jackson Lewis, which has made its reputation keeping unions out of companies. Workers said Swedwood officials required employees to attend meetings at which management discouraged union membership…

Laborers in Swedwood plants in Sweden produce bookcases and tables similar to those manufactured in Danville. The big difference is that the Europeans enjoy a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and a government-mandated five weeks of paid vacation. Full-time employees in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days — eight of them on dates determined by the company.

What’s more, as many as one-third of the workers at the Danville plant have been drawn from local temporary-staffing agencies. These workers receive even lower wages and no benefits, employees said.

Ikea’s U.S. factory churns out unhappy workers (via Reddit)

(Image: Midnight at the Glassworks: Lewis Wickes Hine/Wikimedia/Library of Congress [Public Domain])

Turn your home into a billboard in exchange for your mortgage payment?

 Money 2011 04 05 Technology Adzookie Adzookie Housead.Top Imaginary Foundation‘s Nick Philip just IM’d me: “Would you turn your house into a billboard to be free of mortgage payments for a year?” He’s referring to the marketing gimmick/PR stunt of Ad firm Adzookie, who are looking to pay people’s mortgages in exchange for turning their homes into giant advertisements for the company. (Mock-up seen here.) They haven’t painted a single home yet, but the campaign seems to be working anyway. (Ahem.) According to CNN, the company only has $100,000 budgeted for the whole thing, so I’d imagine chances of getting chosen are slim. Anyway, to answer Nick’s question… No. I would not. “Turn your house into a billboard, get free mortgage

Sketch 3D: turn your napkin doodles into 3D models

Belgian 3D printing shop i.materialise has teamed up with GrabCAD for a service called Sketch 3D. For $80, you can have your napkin doodles and other designs converted into 3D models, suitable for printing at i.materialise or any of its competitors. It’s a great way to open up the possibilities for 3D printing to people who don’t know how to use 3D modelling software.

i.materialise launches Sketch to 3D, A 3D modeling service for 3D printing

Fake-make: counterfeit handmade objects from big manufacturers

Make Magazine has started to publish my old “Make Free” columns online; today, they’ve posted “Untouched By Human Hands,” in which I speculate about whether (and when) big manufacturing companies will start to produce fake “hand-made” objects, and what makers might do in response.

Will the 21st-century equivalent of an offshore call-center worker who insists he is “Bob from Des Moines” be the Guangzhou assembly-line worker who carefully “hand-wraps” a cellphone sleeve and inserts a homespun anti-corporate manifesto (produced by Markov chains fed on angry blog posts from online maker forums) into the envelope?

I wouldn’t be surprised. Our species’ capacity to commodify everything — even the anti-commodification movement — has yet to meet its match. I’m sure we’ll adapt, though.

We could start a magazine for hobbyists who want to set up nostalgic mass-production assembly lines that use old-fashioned injection molders to stamp out stubbornly identical objects in reaction to the corporate machine’s insistence on individualized, 3D-printed, fake artisanship.

Untouched By Human Hands

(Image: Weaving by the Pool, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 87739302@N00’s photostream)

Marketplace for hijacked computers

Brian Krebs went browsing in an underground proxy marketplace, where criminals rent time on hijacked computers to other criminals who want to use the compromised machines as launching-grounds for untraceable networked attacks. Krebs traced down some of the people whose computers were up for rent and let them know that they were being bought and sold on the underground.

Michelle Trammell, associate director of Kirby Pines and president of TSG, said she was unaware that her computer systems were being sold to cyber crooks when I first contacted her this week. I later heard from Steve Cunningham from ProTech Talent & Technology, an IT services firm in Memphis that was recently called in to help secure the network.

Cunningham said an anti-virus scan of the TSG and retirement community machines showed that one of the machines was hijacked by a spam bot that was removed about two weeks before I contacted him, but he said he had no idea the network was still being exploited by cyber crooks. “Some malware was found that was sending out spam,” Cunningham said, “It looks like they didn’t have a very comprehensive security system in place, but we’re going to be updating [PCs] and installing some anti-virus software on all of the servers over the next week or so.”

Is Your Computer Listed “For Rent”?

WTF is ORM? Xeni talks social media scrubbing on NPR’s “Tell Me More”

I joined NPR’s “Tell Me More” show yesterday for a primer on so-called Online Reputation Management services; companies that offer to help people and businesses protect their online image and repair ruined reputations. Do they work, and are they worth it? Audio here. (duration: 7’01”) . Oh, hell, why bury the lede. My #1 tip for online privacy, as revealed in this clip: If you’re drunk and naked at a party, stay away from cameras.

World Bank: gold farming (etc) paid poor countries $3B in 2009

A research arm of the World Bank has produced a comprehensive report on the size of the grey-market virtual world economy in developing countries — gold farming, power-levelling, object making and so on — and arrived at a staggering $3 billion turnover in 2009. They go on to recommend that poor countries be provided with network access and computers so this economy can be built up — a slightly weird idea, given how hostile most game companies are to this sort of thing.

Add in a global union drive among the gold farmers, and you’ve got the plot of my last young adult novel. Funny old world.

Jobs in the virtual economy include micro-tasks like categorizing products in online shops, moderating content posted to social media sites, or even playing online games on behalf of wealthier players who are too busy to tend to their characters themselves. The study estimates that the market for such gaming-for-hire services was worth $3 billion in 2009, and it suggests that with suitable mobile technologies even the least-developed countries could benefit from this emerging virtual economy.

“Developing countries’ roles in the digital world have been mostly limited to users and consumers, not producers. But today, a growing mesh of digital services is giving rise to a new layer of entrepreneurial opportunities with very low entry barriers,” said Valerie D’Costa, Program Manager of info Dev.

Tim Kelly, info Dev’s Lead ICT Policy Specialist, said, “Some of the poorest people in the world are already connected to digital networks through their mobile phones. The study shows that there are real earning opportunities in the virtual economy that will become accessible as mobile technology develops. This could significantly boost local economies and support further development of digital infrastructure in regions such as Africa and southeast Asia.”

While the virtual economy unlocks a plethora of business opportunities, it should be noted that not all these activities are viewed positively. According to the info Dev study, certain business ventures and services offered may actually detract from the experience of other Internet users. For example, harvesting and selling online gaming currencies or mass clicking “Like” on corporate Facebook pages can create an unfair environment where legitimate game play and user opinion loses value and is represented inaccurately.

Converting the Virtual Economy into Development Potential (Thanks, Tim!)

Colombian Justice Minister ramming through extremist copyright legislation without public consultation

German Vargas Lleras, the Colombian Minister of Interior and Justice, has proposed a new fast-track copyright bill that will require ISPs to spy on, disconnect and censor their users in the name of protecting copyright. The bill was introduced without any public consultation or debate — rather, it is to be rammed through Congress without meaningful scrutiny from Colombians. Fundación Karisma has launched a campaign to get the government to conduct public inquiries into the proposal:

Since amending Copyright law was part of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) agenda between Colombia and the U.S., it should come as no surprise that the bill is similar in many ways to the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act introduced in Title II of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). Also France’s anti-privacy/liberty law named HADOPI or Mexicos ‘Three Strikes” approach, where controversy surrounds their adoption under domestic law. At first glance however the bill appears to implement its own features following the rules of both a take down and counter notice and domestic judicial procedure.

Concern is raised on topics such as abuse by copyright owners, ISP’s indiscriminate removal of material, supression of freedom of speech, false claims of copyright infringement, amongst others. Worryngly though, Colombia’s citizens were denied the right to study, discuss and generate public debate regarding the bill before it was put forth to Congress, although the Copyright authority had discussed the idea that there would be a space for public debate prior to the passing of the bill.

Colombia’s Bill to deter copyright infringement on the Internet must undergo public scrutiny (Thanks, Carolina!)