Will you allow a Slave to build your next Transceiver and HT?

As it turns out that a portion of our imported technology has been built by slaves, are you good with being a modern day slave owner through the pursuit of your hobby?

First what is meant by a slave – for the purpose of this post I will use the simplistic definition of a person who has no freewill in most aspects of their life, lacks personal freedom, and is bound to their employer/exploiter.

Not a perfect definition, but I think it will include imprisoned labor, traditional slavery, and the massively controlled labor in a lot of circumstances.

Usually these workers are not free to quit, they are not free to negotiate with their employer, and have significant non-employment restrictions put on their liberties.  

And these enslaved peoples build some of our technology. 

And of course ham radio gear falls into what they build.

So what does an ethical ham do?  Buy something cheap where the labor has a reasonable possibility or being slave or near-slave?  Do that really quick and shut your eyes to the injustice?

Or do you support one of the several manufacturers who use domestic or known free-labor workers?

Surprisingly some of our domestic gear is fabricated with incarcerated labor – prisoners purportedly on skills development programs build some ham radio gear.

Now that is a real ethical conundrum, do you accept benefiting from their buck-an-hour or less labor as a moral cost to providing these prisoners training?  Do any of these trained folk actually get jobs building electronics when their sentences are up? 

All moral decisions a ham should consider.

What do you do?




(I’ve avoided naming companies as I want to challenge the ham community to think about what is important to us, rather than take anybody to task.  For the record my stations are built around gear purchases intended to minimize the use of labor with people with questionable freedoms.   There are some instances where the only available technology doesn’t appear to be clear of labor issues though.  I’ve not found a viable way around those instances.)


2 thoughts on “Will you allow a Slave to build your next Transceiver and HT?

  1. Hi Steve,

    Thank you for your thoughtful posts. Please tell us how it is you know that domestic ham gear is built by prison (incarcerated) labor? Please feel free to email me directly on this if yiu wish. I’m good in QRZ.com.



    • k9zw says:

      Hi Frank – Thank you for stopping by!

      As mentioned above I am aiming for awareness and am not naming names. Additionally with domestic incarcerated training programs the net benefit is certainly a mixed result if a training program with measured results.

      It is easier to name names of those who state their products are manufactured with direct hire and known contract laborers, but none can attest down to the component level.

      The moral questions whether outsourcing is sending a lifeline or ensuring the shackles never come off (figuratively of course) remains a quandary.

      Worth pointing out is ham gear may be the least of our morally troubling products in our lives. Footwear, clothing, autos, much consumer electronics and households are often produced, or have significant content produced, under the shadow of less-than-free labor.

      Whether that is an acceptable exchange remains unanswered or ignored without contemplation by most of us.

      While a great many countries had Special Economic Zones, ranging from small scale partial tax relief programs such as TIF Zones, to labor-supplied zone like NK Kaesong (now idle) and Rason Zones, the drive to lower prices can lead to the NK form where employees are provided for under $6/day including administrative burden.

      A good deal or neo-slavery? While I personally don’t find it a hard call to consider this economic prostitution, there remains a strong argument that without the work these workers would be even worse off.

      So are we proxy-plantation “virtual slave masters” or doing good?



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