I think it’s fair to say that most of us have become pretty reliant on electronic goods. When I have a few spare minutes I often turn to my phone, it’s my source of news, entertainment and helps me out when I get lost! When I’m at work I spend most of my day on a computer, on my bike I monitor my stats on my bike GPS and when resting it’s often in front of a TV. There I admit it. In 10 years I seem to have turned from a technophobe into a techno-geek. How did that happen!?
The impact of all of this from an environmental perspective is pretty huge. But what’s been concerning me more, is the lives of those who are involved in the various stages of producing these goods. As you might be aware from various and recent news items, there are ongoing labour issues within the factories that produce our TVs, phones, computers and other electronics goods. What makes our lives a little easier and more fun can often have devastating consequences for those involved in the full production life-cycle. These electronic goods increasingly rely on rare minerals or depleting resources to function and conflict minerals, illegal and dangerous mining and child labour are all depressingly common side effects of a rapidly expanding and fast moving industry. When it comes to manufacturing, bonded labour, long working hours, poor pay, terrible health and safety, exposure to lethal chemicals and intimidation of workers all seem to be common place.
Fortunately there are organisations trying to have a meaningful impact on these issues. A while back when assessing the social impact of laptop suppliers I came across Electronics Watch. The idea is simple, with a combined EU public procurement spend in IT related goods & services of 94 billion euros (Electronics Watch (2014): ‘Winds of Change’), there is considerable potential to influence suppliers to clean up their act. Electronics Watch is working to get public buyers to commit to setting minimum standards for labour issues within their IT contracts and then auditing factories to ensure these are being met. It’s at the start of the project, but I’m glad to say the University saw this as something that was important and we have signed up as founding members.
Recognising the fact that it is also important to make the most of the goods that we already own, we’re also investigating options to run self –help workshops to mend broken phone screens etc. Watch this space and I’ll keep you informed.
So what about me? Personally I’m starting to build up more knowledge around the technology that I buy. I’ve signed up for the new Fair Phone, but in the meantime I’m going to keep my existing phone going as long as possible. I like the stats that I get when out riding, but ultimately its being out in the fresh air that matters & when a slight temporary increase in personal satisfaction is leading to major problems from a fellow person elsewhere in the world, I feel I owe them a pledge to do a little better.