The stories circulating recently about working conditions in some Far Eastern factories have made a fair number of people start to question their role as consumers. For one thing it doesn’t feel right that we can buy something cheap only because someone else far away suffers. The Fairtrade movement, which started to help African farmers improve their living standards while still supplying Western supermarkets with produce, has now found an equivalent in the consumer electronics space.
The Fairphone is a new Android smartphone which aims to deliver ethical sourcing as part of the package. The company behind the initiative will use conflict free resources, ensure improved worker welfare, implement ecological recycling programs and offer transparent production and pricing information so everyone knows what is involved in the process.
The phone itself comes with a very respectable specification, with a quad core processor, 4.3 inch screen, 8 megapixel camera, Android 4.2, microSD support and 16GB of storage on-board. The team behind the handset are based in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, so the phone will initially only be available in Europe, and they need 5000 orders first so they can start production.
At the time of writing, they have reached just over 40% of their target with 21 days go go, which means that with the right kind of support they could definitely hit their target in time. The price for the unlocked SIM free phone is €325, which is surprisingly competitive for a socially aware project of this nature. It’s not as cheap as the Far Eastern low end alternatives, but it offers an excellent method of demonstrating one’s commitment to improving the way we source our stuff.
How we “feel” about something is a very poor way to determine morality, especially, as here, when we have time to reflect. If one reflects, the first question is “What suffering is going on elsewhere in the process of making the phone.” And second, how do we reduce that suffering.
I assume you are really saying that we would not work for that pay here or put up with those working conditions. That can’t be a moral guidline, or no one “far away” would have a job. Presumably, people “far away” work in these conditions because it is, in fact, the best job they could find. So let’s take that job away?
Most of the time, if not all of the time, the jobs not involving exports are even worse. One could argue that the least moral thing to do is chip away at the best jobs, just because they are not “good” jobs. It may still not feel right, but one of the reasons morality is a real thing is that it has rational roots.
Even though this state of affairs can cause us to feel bad, we can console ourselves with the fact that labor movements need jobs before they can improve jobs.