A Fairer Phone?

I exclusively use use Apple products for work, for school, for my phone, for pretty much everything. However, I know that the products I buy from them are made under unethical conditions. Yet here I am, still buying their products. 

Trying to make ethical choices in our capitalist society is a complex web. How do I know if something is really ethical? Is this the only choice I have? Where was this made? What do these words even mean? One of the facets of this complex web is technology. I wish I could not be a problematic human who buys Apple products. But I am. I hate knowing that I genuinely love Apple products, and simultaneously am aware that the products come with major human rights violations. I think this is a big reason of why there hasn't been a larger shift in conscious consumerism; we simply like the products we have at the prices we can get them at. Because we aren't face to face with the people making our tech, it becomes really easy to forget about them. 

Apple manufactures their products through a massive company called Foxconn. It employs over 1.3 million people in China, with a large concentration of factories located outside of Shenzhen. It has gained its notoriety in mainstream media with the reports of factory workers committing suicide by jumping out of the buildings. Brian Merchant, the author of The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone actually attempted to access entry to one of the factories, and spoke to some employees, who reported that no changes actually occurred in their treatment even after the uproar the international community had. 

The factory workers are actually on of the end stages of making our precious Apple products. Before any products can be assembled, all of the raw materials need to be mined and collected. This is an often forgotten part of making technology. In Congo, acquiring raw materials, specifically coltan, has been a part of a literal war. Coltan mining 'employs' (I use that term loosely, as it more resembles enslavement) children and adults who work in unsafe conditions for very little money, if any. Modern day slavery continues to occur because multinational corporations continue to profit, and we continue to buy. 

As Robert Gibson states in a Huffington Post article, the supply chain of Apple products is a mirror image to the slave trade in the 18th century, where "this time, the slaves are in Africa and Asia, and Americans are forced into wage slavery by an economy that encourages corporations to distribute profits upward to executives, while paying workers less and less." It's true. Modern day examples of slavery (not just from Apple) continue to resemble slavery during colonialism. Discussing the supply chain of technology is not simply an issue of ethics and morality, but an issue about classism, racism, and the effects of colonialism. 

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Just as there are increasing alternatives to fast fashion, there are companies that are striving to make technology more fair. The Fairphone is a smartphone made from materials that have been more ethically sourced. I won't go into massive details, because they have comprehensive and transparent information all outlined on their website.  I did want to share this quote however, because I think it highlights the frustrations and intricacies of making a piece of technology that truly can be called sustainable or ethical. 

"Materials contained in your average smartphone originally enter the supply chain from the mining sector, a challenging industry in terms of sustainability. From pollution and extremely dangerous working conditions to child labor, a number of mining-related practices desperately require improvement...One material at a time, we’re working to increase industry and consumer awareness and incorporate better resources into our phones."

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So how do we go forward? I can't sit here and write this and say I won't ever purchase an Apple product, because that's a lie. Yet if I don't do anything, aren't I effectively saying that I ultimately don't care about the lives of the people who make the products? Aren't I just as bad as the slave owners in the 18th century, or even worse, since I fully am aware of the exploitation I am supporting? I realistically won't be purchasing the Fairphone, at least in my immediate future. I'm curious if you all think of this. Would you consider purchasing the Fairphone? Are you as torn as I am on this topic? I think this is one area where it's really difficult to make ethical easier, when there are so many complicated elements to work through. 

- Emilie Maine.