Friday, 11 September 2009

Ethical Mobile Phones

I've just come to the end of my current contract with Vodafone, and decided to try investigating ethical options. This was partly prompted by a flyer from the Phone Co-op which has been sitting on my desk for several weeks. All our landline business is with the Phone Co-op, who are not the cheapest but are definitely the most ethical; that's why we're with them, so surely it would make sense to transfer my mobile business too.

I've been with Vodafone for several years and have got used to their system of having a new handset 'free' with each new contract. I need a new handset; my current one keeps crashing. The fact that I'd have to pay £199 for my new handset, with the Phone Co-op, was initially a shock.

Then I started doing some sums. The Phone Co-op do offer 'bundle' packages of minutes and texts for a set monthly amount, but they point out that a lot of people have bigger 'bundles' than they need, and therefore end up paying more per minute/text they actually use than they realise. For example, if your 'bundle' includes 800 minutes per month, but you only use 200, each minute effectively costs four times as much as you think. Everyone's usage is different, which is why it's hard to work out what constitutes a good deal when it comes to mobile phones. But the Phone Co-op recommend their pay-for-what-you-use system, which starts at 4p/minute for calls and 6p/text, with a flat rate line rental of £1.70/month. They suggest that this works out cheaper for most people, in the end - and my sums seemed to bear that out.

So far, so good. Then I started looking into the ethics of handsets. Boy oh boy, what a minefield! We're getting used to thinking about ethical issues when it comes to shopping for food or clothes. Electronic goods are a different thing altogether. When a single component can have a supply chain of a dozen companies, it's really REALLY hard to establish anything definite about the ethical credentials of a finished product. Also, several mobile phone companies are good in some areas but bad in others. For example, Nokia score highly on environmental issues, but low on social issues because they have told newly recruited workers in India not to join unions, and most of their manufacturing is based in China which prohibits unions. Research carried out in 2006 found that staff of handset factories in China, India, Thailand and the Philippines worked up to 72 hours a week with compulsory overtime, insecure employment contracts, unsafe factories, inadequate protection when working with hazardous materials, wages below the subsistence level, suppression of union rights and degrading treatment.

I can't buy an ethical mobile phone. It's not possible to get one made locally by a craftsman. It's also not realistic to go back to life without one. My clients expect me to have a mobile phone and I can't afford to lose business.

So I'm going to bite the Phone Co-op bullet. My reasoning is, if I pay upfront and separately for my handset, I'm more likely to take care of it and keep it for longer, which offers more respect to the poorly paid people who have worked in lousy conditions to produce it for me. Also, I will recycle my old phone through a charity. But I still feel as if I'm in bed with the enemy.


Debs said...

These things always seem so complicated to me. Thankfully I only need my ancient mobile for the odd call from the kids or husband.

The children are always trying to get me to buy Iphone or something, saying about the brilliant music, etc, but I'm hopeless with all that and use it as little as possible on a pay as you go card.

Carol said...

It always comes down to choosing the best of a bad bunch doesn't it!!

What makes me sad is that, although the conditions for workers in these factories are hideous, the competition for the jobs is still huge!! They are viewed as good jobs and are better than most other options available....sickening isn't it!!

C x

hilaryusfun said...

agree with the previous commenters! but also - would a second hand handset help at all? You do see them on ebay frequently.

We also use the phone coop for landlines and just love love love them for the customer service alone!

HelenMHunt said...

Very interesting post. I think you're right that in some areas it just isn't possible to make the ethical decisions you want to make. As Carol said, it is often a case of best of a bad lot.

Jumbly Girl said...

Really interesting post - thank you.
I agree with other commentators about having to choose the best of a bad bunch - it makes me sad just thinking about it and wish I could return to my pre mobile, pre-computing days. I have friends who manage it but it would require me to completely change my job which I love and which is very low impact in many other ways.

However your post has made me realise that I must hang on to my ancient mobile phone which I dislike intensely and have muttered about 'losing' from time to time. I will stick with it until it dies (which it shows no sign of doing).

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

Oh! I thought I commented on this already. Sometimes there's an error in posting, but it's not flagged up very clearly, so you close it down without realising your comment hasn't posted...

Anyway, what I said was that we don't choose to live under Capitalism. We could choose to live on an isolated island somewhere (well actually, most of us couldn't) but that would mean cutting ourselves off from friends/family/most of humanity, which seems a bit harsh... so anyway, you don't choose the system. All you can do is try and minimise your impact, but you can't feel personally responsible for all the ills in the world. That's just silly.

For what it's worth, I've only ever owned two mobile handsets. I've always bought the absolute cheapest most basic Nokia handset and then used Pay As You Go. The Pay As You Go thing is individual - it suits the way I use a mobile - but I do get very angrified at the way phone companies (and most other electronics manufacturers) encourage people to believe that they absolutely must have the latest gismo whenever it comes out, whereas in fact most people don't use most of the functionality available, and what they do use they really don't need. Is a camera on a phone necessary? Of course not. I manage perfectly fine without one, and also without bluetooth access and all the rest. My ever-so-simple thing allows me to make and receive calls, send/receivce texts, set alarms to remind me of appointments, keep a record of names, numbers and addresses, and have an alarm clock with me at all times... which is already more than I need, but cost me £20 a few years ago, and I will keep using it until it dies (which in itself will be much sooner than it ought to be, as the bloody things are designed not to last long so you have buy another one, grrrr)...

Ahem. But yes. Rah for keeping hold of handsets, and boo to stupid consumer fashions.

Debi said...

Ah, now you see, this is why I love both you and the Squirrel. Most people don't give their rampant consumerism a second thought. It's there ... everyone else has got one ... etc etc.

As BS says, we can always berate ourselves for not doing more, but you shouldn't lose sight of the fact that you do so much more than most.

Not that that should make us complacent of course ...

Queenie said...

Debs, bit like me then, I don't want an IPhone either.
Carol, best of a bad bunch is about the size of it.
Hilary, my Paramour has experimented with second-hand handsets and the trouble is that they tend to be unreliable - which, when you need them for work, can be hazardous.
Helen, yep, Carol hit the nail on the head.
JG, I know, I wish I could manage without my mobile - although I'd miss my computer. I hate my current handset too so I'm secretly rather glad it's malfunctioning!
BS, good point. I looked into simple/basic handsets - there are some great ones aimed at the disability market - but for various work-related reasons none of them were suitable.
Debi, the thing is, I AM a rampant consumer - but of experiences (e.g. mentoring!!) rather than Stuff.

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