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About the Author

Lara Smallman
Campaigner, film-maker, blogger (London, United Kingdom)

Self-taught film-maker interested in exploring human rights issues. See more on


Dying for an iPad?

Published 12th June 2010 - 14 comments - 5555 views -

My mobile phone has just died. I need to get a new one, and fast. I can't even manage a day without it.

Right about now you are probably wondering why I'm telling you this. Rest assured, I'm not going mad.

I did the usual thing, checked a few sites and decided what I wanted (phones don't last all that long, so this is by no means the first time I'm going through sites comparing storage capacity and megapixels). There's lots on offer, that's nothing new. I found what I wanted fairly quickly, and I'm glad. 

But then I came across something which stopped me from going to the nearest phone shop and buying that phone:

Worrying headline upon worrying headline about what's really going on behind the closed doors of electronics factories.

I have to admit, until recently I'd never before given it a second's thoughts. But I do, and rigorously too, with food and clothes - why have I been so ignorant about electronics?

Have you ever wondered how mobile phones, or cameras, mp3 players, most technology as it happens, is so damn cheap? I'm almost ashamed to say, I haven't. I could walk into any number of shops and buy a new handset for around £20. And the prices seem to be falling all the time. It doesn't seem to add up.

Then you find out that these parts are assembled mostly by people and not machine.

Then you delve further into the headlines...

An update to the US firm's supplier codes in February revealed that a majority of its 102 facilities flouted its "rigorous" rules on working hours, which include a weekly limit of 60 hours a week – equivalent to 12 hours a day. Some 39 per cent broke rules on workplace injury prevention and 30 per cent broke guidelines on the management of toxic chemicals...

...Audits uncovered violations involving child labour, falsified records and disposal of hazardous waste. [Read more here]

Then you hear that suicides in such factories are on the rise.

For us, the phone conversations, music, and photos we enjoy daily cost next to nothing. But for those at the other end of the supply chain - making the products we are addicted to - are paying a very high price indeed. 

Category: Human Rights | Tags:


  • Larisa Rankovic on 12th June 2010:

    Just today I have read about this in Italian Grazia. 11 suicide attempts since the beginning of the year. Another dimension to fancy new things, indeed.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 12th June 2010:

    How technology has taken over our lives!

  • Bart Knols on 13th June 2010:

    An important issue. But, my simple question to you is: will you now no longer buy a new iPhone? I guess not.

    And that’s the heart of this problem that the manufacturers know very well. They know that you will buy another one, regardless of the fact that there are suicides involved, child labour etc. They know that we will think that this is really sad and then pick up our iPhone when it rings and forget about it. They know that you will play sudoku on your iPhone and that you are addicted to it when you commute to work. They know that you check email on your iPhone whenever you’re in Starbucks picking up a coffee… And that’s why this continues and can get worse.

    Customers in this case will not change anything about these mishaps. Its the countries’ workforce policies, labour unions, etc. that will have to fight hard to improve working conditions.

    Gotta stop this comment, my iPhone just rang…

  • Bart Knols on 13th June 2010:

    Lara, your blog got me digging a bit deeper into this matter, and look what I found:

    Foxconn has between 300,000 and 400,000 employees. The World Health Organisation reported that suicide rates per 100,000 for Hong Kong in 2006 were 19.3 for men and 11.5 for women - so the Foxconn figures are actually LOWER than for Hong Kong (and significantly lower than Belgium and France).

    So, are we still looking at a problem related to phones?

  • Robert Stefanicki on 13th June 2010:

    Reportedly, to control damage, Foxconn almost doubled the wages. And it is still profitable! After strikes, suicides are becoming a new instrument to fight for labor rights.

  • Andrea Arzaba on 13th June 2010:

    We do not pay the real value of things,like in this case technology. You should really check this webpage:  it explains it better smile

  • Lara Smallman on 13th June 2010:

    Thanks for your comments guys.

    @ Bart, it might surprise you, but no, I won’t buy something now that I know these things. I don’t need it and I can live without it, more than that there is an alternative. It doesn’t take long to find more ethical versions of the same thing. I just found this site:, which gives an ethical rating to a range of electronic products, based on its involvement with animal testing, armaments, boycott calls, environmental record, genetic modification, nuclear power, etc. I thought it’d be quite a tall order finding a replacement mobile phone which comes from an ethical source, but it took no more than a couple of minutes.

    @ Robert - yes, I read about the wage increases too, but that’s not enough, working conditions overall need to be improved. The fact that they are still profitable proves that being ethical and commercially viable can go hand in hand.

    @ Andrea, thanks for the link. The story of stuff explains things very well. I saw a programme recently about e-waste. Lots of people here donate their unwanted electronics to charities, thinking they are going to the developing world. Sadly, that rarely happens. Rather, the unwanted, unusable junk gets shipped over there - in quite incredible quantities…

    so in response to Bart,  we are not just looking at a problem with phones, but something much, much bigger

  • Jodi Bush on 13th June 2010:

    I often think that buying cheap is a problem, because there is a reason why it’s so low cost (poor wages for workers, shipped in for developing countries) but actually it’s often the same for high price goods as well. The iPhone is a perfect example. It’s hard to know how to make the conscientious decision as a consumer.

  • Clare Herbert on 15th June 2010:

    I had the same problem recently too. My phone died and I was desperate for a new one. First of all, when I had to, I realized that I could be without it. It was almost free-ing.

    I bought another and tried to be ethical about it, but it’s nearly impossible with mobiles. 90% of the world’s Coltan (a mineral used in mobiles and pagers) is found in Democratic Republic of Congo- as I’m sure many of you know. We all know the war and strife that has gone on there over minerals.

    Hope you enjoy your new phone

  • Liisa Leeve on 15th June 2010:

    We can buy Fair Trade bananas, so why not Fair Trade mobile phones?

    Now some mobile phone company executive would argue that its impossible to control the entire production chain of a mobile phone because of all the raw material providers and sub-contractors involved, but they do quality control on their product and that does’nt seem impossible does it. So why not human rights and environmental control as well?

  • Mohammed on 17th June 2010:

    I just came across this article while googling for ipad ethics. I really want an iphone or ipad but after seeing these stories about abuse of worker rights I just cant bring myself to do it. Is there an ethical alternative? Surely I cant be alone in saying I`ll pay extra to ensure that fellow human beings arent treated like shit to pay for my toys?

  • Lara Smallman on 17th June 2010:

    yep there are. you’d be surprised by how wide the range is. just type it into google and there’s loads. good luck and happy shopping!

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