Monday, September 8, 2014

38. The Search for Ethical Cell Phones

My current phone is on the fritz. It's not a smart phone--just a regular cell that only allows me to call and text and take some photos. I've had some less than savory experiences with my cell provider in the last month. They basically were telling me that I couldn't get a new phone through them without locking into a new two-year contract that would cost me hundreds more dollars a year than the no-contract plan I have now. Thus began my hunt for a different provider and my hope was to find an ethical phone company that was committed to NOT ripping off customers with unnecessary hidden fees and that was aware of labor issues and human rights violations that occur in the production of cell phones.

Basically what I discovered was: there is no such thing as an ethical cell phone or smart phone. This was based on an article I discovered on Salon that described the many problems with cell phone production and companies. Digging around a bit, I found a brief list of said problems.

1. Colton: All cell phones need colton to function. It's a mineral found mostly in the Democratic Republic of Congo where it's become the new "blood diamond." The trade is often manned by warlords that cause much suffering to the workers and civilians. Working conditions often lead to loss of limbs and, even death. Children are also frequently employed.

2. Young Fast Optoelectronics: This company makes touchscreens used by most smart phone and tablet companies. The company is also notorious for using "sweatshops" where working conditions consistently violate human rights standards.

3. WinTek: Apple uses WinTek to clean screens on phones,. During the production of this cleaner, workers are exposed to harsh chemicals and the company is lackluster in protecting employees from the health hazards of these chemicals. It's a very dangerous work environment.

4. Big cell phone companies rip you off. AT&T, Sprint, US Cellular, Verizon. They rip you off with hidden fees. You aren't getting a phone for a penny when you sign up for a contract. You are paying for that phone probably twice over through the completion of your contract. This is a big problem for consumers who want to know where their money is going.

So, what's the solution? Unfortunately, there isn't one. The best we can do is use our phones to raise awareness of the problems. The company I will be going with myself is Ting. Their mission is to provide no-contract plans that display integrity and transparency in where you dollars are going when you pay your bill. I bought a used phone through one of their suppliers and I suppose that is better for labor rights than buying something brand new.

UPDATE: Since switching to Ting, my average cell phone bill went from $70 a month to $20 a month for MORE services than I had with my big phone company. Their option to buy used and refurbished phones also cuts back on participation in the new cell phone market, for those who want to be conscious of how the phones are produced and how we, as consumers, contribute to those conditions.

If any of you know of other routes or solutions, feel free to comment below!