Gadgets Get a Heart: The Fair-Trade Phone

Currently, no cell phone or smartphone is guilt-free, but Dutch company FairPhone has set out to make a conflict-free, sweatshop free, fair-trade phone.

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Those with old-fashioned cell phones are not off the hook, since raw materials are sourced from the same mines, where cave-ins and child labor are common, and profits often benefit armed factions.

TOMAS SERADA/FOTOLIA

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Admit it. You love your smartphone. So finding out that the near-magical device is brought to you by sweatshop labor and conflict zone minerals is probably not the best of news. Those with old-fashioned cell phones are not off the hook either, since raw materials are sourced from the same mines, where cave-ins and child labor are common, and profits often benefit armed factions.

But we’ve had fair-trade coffee, sweatshop-free clothes, and conflict-free diamonds for a decade. What’s the hold up on a fair-trade phone? According to New Scientist (April 17, 2012) a fair-trade smartphone is in the works. Many manufacturing centers, including Foxconn, have signed a code of conduct to abide by labor laws and lessen environmental impact (though, for now, it relies mostly on the honor system). Meanwhile, Dutch start-up FairPhone is working to develop the first responsibly sourced, fairly manufactured, open-source phone. The initiative is working with communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to find conflict-free rare earth minerals.

The good news: consumer demand for a fair-trade phone could set a precedent for tech toys of the future. In the realm of high-turnover electronics, that could make a big difference in the long run.