Why Fair Trade Technology Could Be The Next Big Thing

Urban Mine at LlowLab - Photo credit: Fairphone (flicker)

More and more consumers are making their purchases based on their moral values and how they want to contribute to the world. Be it the food we buy, the clothes we wear or how we get to work. So, with the minerals used in the production of our technology causing concern, is fair trade technology the new ‘organic’?


In terms of technology, smartphones are one of the lowest common denominators, with many people around the world owning one.  The following are some examples of the minerals that are needed to produce smartphones and where they come from:

  • Copper, gold, and silver are used in the electrical units of smartphones and mined in Congo and Zambia
  • Lithium is used in the production of smartphone batteries and mined in Zimbabwe.
  • Coltan is also used to produce electrical units in phones and is mined in DRC, Rwanda and Uganda.
  •  Palladium and platinum are used in the electrical circuits of smartphones and mined in South Africa.

DRC is the largest producer of coltan in the world. Amnesty International reports that conditions in the mines are rarely safe and many of the workers work without essential protective gear. The organisation also reported that many workers become ill due to the poor working conditions and between September 2014 and December 2015 at least 80 miners died in the DRC.

Miners digging through earth
Miners in DRC – Photo credit: Christian Aid (Flicker)

UNICEF reported that in 2014 approximately 40,000 miners in DRC were children. Often, the children work 12 hour days to earn 1 or 2 dollars.

As if horrendous working conditions and child labour isn’t bad enough, the revenue from the selling of these minerals often funds the armed groups in the DRC. In eastern Congo, there are more than 50 armed groups, fighting amongst themselves. In 2014 this fighting displaced more than 3 million people, according to the UNHCR.

Since 2014, companies have been required to submit conflict mineral reports. Out of the 147 companies that submitted reports in 2014, more than two-thirds of them couldn’t identify the source of the minerals in their products. Of those companies, none could say for sure if they were financing or benefiting armed groups by buying these minerals.

Apple, Samsung, Sony and Huawei are just some of the names listed in an Amnesty International report of companies that use conflict minerals in their products.

A picture of the Fairphone
The Fairphone – Photo credit: Fairphone (flicker)

There are alternatives to purchasing tech products from companies that use conflict minerals, however. The Fairphone is a smartphone that’s produced using conflict-free materials. The Fairphone 2 is available internationally and can be bought online, retailing at €529.38. The ethical consumer has compiled a list of products, including tech, and rated them based on the ethics employed when producing the product. They recommend buying second-hand or refurbished tech products whenever possible.

So, the question is now, amidst the battle between the latest iPhone and Galaxy will people stop, step back and decide not to purchase, not to give the green light to child labour and not to finance armed forces around the world?