Is investing in poor women good business?

A health educator at her work station in Bangladesh

One lesson of the Apple in China scandal is that factory monitoring is a necessary but insufficient way to improve the lives of workers in poor countries. Apple inspected its suppliers’ factories, but conditions remain harsh. While strengthening inspections and sanctions, smart brands and retailers are finding ways to help workers in their supply chains gain more control over their work and lives.

A program run by BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) called the HERproject, which gives women working in export factories access to health information, is an example of what could–and should–be done. Teaching young women about health, including reproductive health and family planning, is, by itself, a good thing. It also delivers a not-so-subtle message to factory owners that it might be good for their business to take better care of workers, instead of exploiting them until they are used up.

Many factory owners “see their workers as cogs in a machine” and act accordingly, says Racheal Yeager, who leads the HERproject for BSR. “That’s why there are high rates of turnover and high rates of absenteeism.”

“What we’re trying to do is change the mindset of the factory management,” she says. [click to continue...]

Saving a laptop, saving a life

Inside every Hewlett Packard laptop, and perhaps others as well, I’m told, is a tiny device–a sensor–known as an accelerometer. It’s just what it sounds like, a way to measure acceleration. Should you accidentally drop your laptop, the sensor’s job is to protect the hard drive from damage by sending a signal to park the read/write head away from the drive. Amazing, no? (Please do not test this out at home.)

Jeff Wacker

I learned this today from Jeff Wacker, an HP Fellow, a researcher and a futurist,  who came to Washington to talk to policy-makers and reporters about HP’s work on sensors, and how they will change the way we interact with the world.  Sensors will, he argued, help conserve energy, improve traffic congestion, track food-borne illnesses, even save lives. HP is working on a project called CeNSE — the letters stand for Central Nervous System for the Earth — which is about communicating with all the stuff around us, as well as with the planet itself.

CeNSE, the company says, will “revolutionize human interaction with the earth as profoundly as the Internet has revolutionized personal and business interactions.” The idea behind CeNSE is also known as “the Internet of things.” (See The Internet of parking spaces.) IBM with its Smarter Planet efforts and Cisco, which has its own futurist who’s thinking about this interconnected world, both see the opportunity to develop the Internet of things as potentially huge. [click to continue...]