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Who died to build my laptop and other ethical dilemmas

By on Jan 16, 2014 in Ethical business | 2 comments

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photo of robot posterIn my pursuit of a sustainable lifestyle, my one downfall keeps being IT.

What a tangled web there is of supply chains, components and ethical dilemmas.

Need new smartphones for your business? One manufacturer currently has factory workers rioting and has been accused of ‘slave labour‘ in the past.

Need new computers? So called conflict minerals (gold, tin or tungsten) are in just about every microprocessor there is.

Need a web-host? I fell into the trap of choosing a very popular web hosting service that I soon discovered went against some of my core beliefs (I am against animal cruelty and sexism ).

There is some light on the horizon with ethical IT choices:

Fairphone want to create the first smartphone that is ethically sound, with conflict-free materials and ethical working practices.

Intel have announced they will no longer be producing microprocessors with conflict of conflict and non-conflict minerals

On Monday, the Guardian’s Mark Gunther wrote a thoughtful piece on Intel’s announcement and whether other IT manufacturers will follow.

Let’s not forget the “reuse” part of “reduce, reuse, recycle” – iFixit have struggled with big business’s definition of copyright but they’re still a fantastic resource to go to if you want to repair your IT equipment rather than buying new.

What should you decide?

In the end, you need to be comfortable with your business choices and you need to be able to back up your choices to your customers.

Before buying some new IT for your business, do some research. Think about your business ethics and see if the manufacturer of that new smartphone, laptop, tablet matches up. IT companies are starting to realise the true impact of a good corporate sustainability policy that they can prove they believe in so read those policies, Google for recent news items about the company and don’t be afraid of asking questions direct to the manufacturer (the less than subtly named Executive Email Carpet Bomb tactic from the Consumerist can be used to ask those difficult ethical questions not just to complain). The more of us asking those difficult questions, the more the manufacturers will need to start listening (yes, I’m ever the optimist!).

I’m always on the look-out for ethical IT choices so if you’ve come across an IT service or business that you think ticks all the boxes for ‘people, planet, profit’, let’s chat about it – comment below or tweet me with more info.

Conflict vs non-conflict minerals image by Sasha Lezhnev with Creative Commons – take a look at her photos for more information on conflict vs non-conflict minerals and the Grassroots Reconciliation Group

Robot photo by Marc Smith with Creative Commons




  1. Aimee Davies

    January 17, 2014

    Post a Reply

    What a great blog post! Traceability in food is becoming more prevalent but I’ve often thought about technology too. The sheer amount of waste from electronic goods astounds me. For example so many people get the latest phones each year and leave their old ones lying around untill they are so old they bin them (but hopefully some are selling them on to a good home or giving to charities to rehome them or their components). I came across this the other day. It really excited me to see people thinking like this. Personalisation and eco friendly – genius! I really hope more designers out there start thinking in modules and about sustainability. Apple computers used to last forever. Now if you take a laptop into their store that is +3 years old to repair they look at you puzzled and say ‘err why don’t you just buy a new one?’ . It is like they don’t understand what the word ‘repair’ means or why you would want to do such a thing. I wonder is there a directory or eco/ethical tech products out there (or rather as eco as they can be right now)

    Highlight to the people and give them choice and may be let’s see what demand and supply can do to change things?

    • Susan B. Bentley

      January 17, 2014

      Post a Reply

      Thanks for your comment Aimee. It does seem that food sustainability is now moving light years ahead of tech and it’s a slow start for tech to really start looking at these issues. I’d seen the news about the easily replaceable parts for smartphone and think it’s a great idea but my cynical optimistic side wonders if it’s ever going to get further than the really groovy concept drawings that are out there. The interesting thing about ethical directories is that all the ones I’ve come across have different criteria for what makes products ethical (most of all the Top 100 ethical companies list which I’ll be writing about more in March when the annual list is published) so there’s just no perfect list right now 🙁

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