Fairtrade coffee, tea and chocolate have been a big success with Brits, but it’s not just food that should require an ethical supply chain. Would you be happier buying tech if you knew it had more ethical components?
With sales of smartphones and tablets increasing year on year, there’s a huge demand for the minerals required in their manufacture.
Sadly, many of these minerals are sourced from some of the most troubled and impoverished areas of the world.
Conflict minerals in your pocket
If you own a DVD player, mobile phone or tablet, then unknowingly you also own a small amount of cassiterite, tungsten, tantalum and gold. All are essential in producing tech products, and all tend to be sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which sits on vast mineral resources of $24tn.
The DRC is one of the most conflict-ridden parts of the world, and its mineral wealth has been used to fund militia groups that have perpetuated a conflict that has claimed millions of lives and seen weaponised rape on a colossal scale.
NGO Enough, a human-rights group, estimates that armed groups in the DRC earned some $185m in 2008 from trading in minerals that ended up in Western consumer electronics. It also suggests that around a third of the workforce in the DRC’s small-scale mines is child labour.
US calls for audits, not bans
In an attempt to address this issue, the US passed the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in August 2010, which included a clause saying manufacturers must audit their supply chains and disclose if ‘conflict’ minerals were used in the manufacturing process.
However, while this act calls for ‘due diligence’ on the part of manufacturers, it does not demand immediate cessation of the use of conflict minerals, nor does it threaten to penalise manufacturers using conflict minerals in their supply chains.
Some manufacturers are nonetheless taking a lead. Motorola has spearheaded the Solutions for Hope programme to ensure its raw materials come from responsible sources. And Apple’s Supplier Responsibility Progress Report states a commitment to ethical sourcing of minerals:
‘Apple’s commitment to social responsibility extends to the source of raw materials used in the manufacturing of our products.
‘We require our suppliers to use only metals that have been procured through a conﬂict-free process and from sources that adhere to our standards of human rights and environmental protection.’
Apple and Motorola are taking a worthy step. By sourcing minerals from ethically-approved mines in the DRC, or from alternative regions like Australia, Brazil and Canada, manufacturers can keep their products free from conflict minerals that fund suffering.
Food matters, so why not tech?
According to the Fairtrade Foundation, every day in the UK we consume 9.3 million cups of Fairtrade tea, 6.4 million cups of Fairtrade coffee, 2.3 million Fairtrade chocolate bars and 3.1 million Fairtrade bananas.
Clearly the ethos of buying food from an ethical source has struck a chord with Brits. Is it time to demand a similar standard for the technology we carry around in our pockets?
Would you like to see tech manufacturers signing up to a clearly marked scheme which will allow consumers to make an ethical choice in the products they purchase?
Do you care whether your tech products are ethically made?
Yes, I do care (56%, 788 Votes)
I didn't realise this was a problem (29%, 408 Votes)
No, I don't care (14%, 201 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,397