Not just about the chocolate…Can electronics be fair trade too?

When we think of Fairtrade, we think about workers being paid a fair price. We generally think of food products like coffee, sugar and chocolate; maybe we think about Fairtrade fashion. But what about electronics? Can gadgets like mobile phones, laptops and tablets be Fairtrade too?

Whilst Fairtrade certification schemes don’t extend to electronics (yet), that doesn’t mean that the Fair Trade principles shouldn’t apply. Principles, yes, because Fairtrade is more than just paying a fair price. It’s about social justice. This means transparency and accountability; ensuring no child labour or forced labour; no discrimination and good working conditions.

So do electronics companies adhere to the Fair Trade principles?

Two organisations, Not For Sale and Baptist World Aid Australia, were wondering the same thing. They got together and, with support from the International Labour Rights Forum and a grant from the US government, produced the report “Electronic Industry Trends 2014”. They examined the efforts of 39 global electronics companies to address the issues of paying workers a living wage, preventing child and forced labour, and upholding worker rights.

Here’s What They Found:
• 97% of companies fail to pay factory worker enough to live on. Only one company (Nokia) was able to show that some workers received a living wage.
• Less than half of companies assessed had adopted the Electronics Industry Citizen Coalition (EICC) Code of Conduct, which prohibits child and forced labour and addresses human trafficking.
• Just 10% of companies guarantee a fair price or financially support their suppliers to provide decent working conditions.
• Half of companies knew which suppliers were responsible for their manufacturing, but less than 1 in 5 knew where the raw materials came from.
• Only 1 in 3 could provide public supplier lists, which encourage transparency and accountability.
• Two thirds of companies are involved in projects to trace mineral suppliers, in order to prevent sourcing conflict minerals.

The Scorecard: None of the companies assessed received an A; the companies doing the most to proactively address issues were awarded a B grade.


Would you believe that the investigation found that for a worker to receive a decent living wage, the cost of a smartphone need only increase by £5?

So what can we do?
• We can consume less. Is it really necessary to replace our mobile phones with a brand new model every year?
• Read the report! Informed consumers make better choices.
• We can support companies who are challenging the status quo and changing how things are done. Fairphone is a social enterprise with a vision to sell smartphones made with fair trade principles and environmental and social responsibility. In fact, they don’t just see themselves as a company; they see themselves as a movement. They released their first batch of phones in 2013 and orders are currently open for the second batch.
• We can put pressure on companies to clean up their act. Apple, for example, has received a lot of criticism for poor working conditions in its supplier factories, but this pressure has forced it to attempt to clean up its act. You can write to companies and ask questions; you can sign petitions, and you can ask your family and friends to do the same!

Buying electronics should be no different to buying coffee or tea. If we want to see a fairer world, we need to support the companies that are working to make that happen. Through our purchasing decisions we provide the demand that allows these companies to grow. As consumers we can vote with our wallets…we just need to make sure we vote for the change we want to see.

Lindsay Miles is a sustainable living advocate: a writer, workshop facilitator, speaker, blogger, events co-ordinator and all-round people-and-planet lover! She believes that sustainability isn’t just about big picture stuff like “saving the rainforests”; it’s as much about the little things we do and choices we make every day. Find out more at

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7 Responses

  1. Lois says:

    Well that’s disappointing. I get my phones used, what ever is available when my current phone no longer works. My current brand is HTC I’m going to save this list for future reference.

  2. My boyfriend also has an HTC phone and was pretty disappointed when he saw they scored a D. He’ll be keeping his until it packs in of course – the most ethical phone is the one you already have! Maybe by the time he needs a new one all mobile phones will be more ethical – wouldn’t that be great?!

  3. Karolina says:

    We’ve been quite lucky with our choices so far (relief). There is my old HP and some Nokia(s) and a Samsung at home… Have you heard about TCO, Swedish certification scheme? What do you think of it? Trustworthy?

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