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Ethical Technology – Mobile Phones & Networks

Looking for some ethical tech? Want to make sure your next smartphone was not produced using child labour or conflict minerals? The hard truth is that ensuring your next handset purchase is an ethical one is not easy. The mobile phone industry is incredibly complex, making it difficult for the average consumer to navigate. Indeed, ethics in tech is a deeply nuanced matter, as Daniel Cooper recently wrote for engadget, concluding that “conscious consumption is hard to apply to consumer electronics”.

This section will explore some of the issues, and suggest the networks and handsets that rank best for human rights and are the most environmentally friendly, according to The Good Shopping Guide’s comprehensive and independent ethical comparison research.

Ethical Smartphones – Addressing Conflict Minerals

Conflict minerals are a huge issue in the mobile phone industry. The fact is that the mineral trade has funded some of the world’s most brutal conflicts for decades.

It was not too long ago an Amnesty International and Global Witness report revealed how an astonishing amount of US companies failed to meet a proposed conflict mineral law. It remains that some of the biggest and most popular global tech brands face constant criticism due to frequent links between their supply chains and human rights abuses. In fact, in our most recent investigations, this remains one of the biggest concerns when it comes to the Apple iPhone.

Child Labour

To add to the above, a 2016 investigation by Amnesty International exposed the use of child labour in supply chains behind smartphone batteries used by such major electronics brands as Apple, Samsung and Sony. To quote the Amnesty report:

These child miners, some as young as seven, live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), central Africa. Given that more than half the world’s cobalt comes from the DRC, that one fifth of it is extracted by artisanal (or informal) miners, and that around 40,000 children work in southern DRC where the cobalt is mined, there’s a chance that our phones contain child labour.

Yet phone manufacturers – global brands including Apple and Samsung – won’t tell us if their cobalt supply chains are tainted by child labour. They have a responsibility to do so –to check for and address child labour in their supply chains, setting an example for the rest of the industry to follow.



Many toxic chemicals go into mobile phones, making their disposal a potential health hazard. This often takes place in the developing world, where labour costs and environmental standards are lower. Greenpeace and Amnesty International highlights the danger that some workers are exposed to when processing old mobile phones without proper equipment, and has persuaded some companies, including Sony and Nokia, to eliminate harmful chemicals including flame retardants and PVC plastic from their products.

If you are one of the 15 million people in the UK who are disposing of a mobile phone this year, you can help to alleviate the environmental strain by recycling your handset. Many supermarkets, charity shops and mobile phone retailers offer recycling services, often for a good cause.

Interesting in ethical smartphones? We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following smartphone brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Giffgaff,O2, The People’s Operator, Virgin Mobile, Fairphone, Huawei, HTC, NEC, Vodafone, EE, Blackberry, Motorola, LG, Sony, Three, Microsoft / Nokia (Lumia), iPhone (Apple), Samsung.

Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning we earn commission if you click through and make a purchase. Placement and use of these links has no bearing in terms of the ethical scores that we give to a brand.  All commission earned by The Good Shopping Guide is re-invested into the research carried out by The Ethical Company Organisation.

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