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US: Prisoners Go to Work for Dell

by Drew CullenThe Register (UK)
May 19th, 2002

Dell rose to the top by cutting more corners than its rivals. The PC giant is cutting another corner by employing prisoners to handle its new consumer recycling scheme in the US.

Dell is not dirtying its hands directly with either the PCs or the jail-birds; it is instead obtaining their services through a US government agency called Unicor, which for some reason is also called Federal Prison Industries. Or maybe that's just the commercial bit.

(We learned the above from a well-researched CNET article, which introduced the news point about prisoners in paragraph 11. This illustrates one of the many small differences between British and American journalism.)

Critics say that this has the potential to be little more than a hi-tech chain gang. Clearly, they haven't visited a PC recycling facility lately, which are as low-tech as they come.

By employing very cheap labour, Dell can cut corners on costs, maybe even break even on recycling PCs. The residual value of second-user PCs have fallen through the floor, the break-up value has fallen significantly; and the cost of Microsoft software licenses is a serious impediment to creating a viable -- and legal -- secondhand market; finally regulators in Europe and Japan are imposing expensive green policies on PC manufacturers.

In the US, the big PC brands are taking charge, before legislators take charge of them: Dell joins IBM, HP and Sony in setting up consumer recycling schemes, CNET reports. Most impose a fairly nominal fee for taking back their old, tired boxes. We guess that companies will juggle with this fee, finding extra discount for new sales.

Dell will take back PCs from any manufacturers through its Dell Exchange scheme, which launches September, in line with HP and Best Buy practice. This may swing some green customers their way next time they choose their new PC.





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