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Nokia doing more than others to keep smartphone manufacturing ethical

George Monbiot of The Guardian has crafted an interesting piece on smartphones (and general electronics) that are constructed in the blood of people from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Gold, tantalum, tin and tungsten have been fought over by rival armies and militias for years. The war has killed millions through displacement, disease and malnutrition.

But which of the smartphone companies today are making sure their hardware is built using minerals that are gathered through legit and conflict-free? It's believed that Nokia has done more than most manufacturers with its Windows Phone and Asha line of products, but there's still room for improvement across the board, according to Monboit's report.

Global Witness and FairPhone both point out that mining in eastern Congo supports many families in a country where it's reported that 82% are considered underemployed. The two organisations emphasise that trade can be dissociated from violence if companies ensure they're not purchasing minerals which have passed through the hands of militias. Monboit goes into some detail covering retailers and manufacturers, contacting and / or checking out each company for information on how they're looking at preventing such from happening.

Here's a snippet that looks at Vodafone:

"I began with the retailers, and the results were disappointing. Vodafone, for example, claims to have developed a social and ecological rating system, enabling its customers 'to make informed decisions about the mobile phone they choose to buy'. Its website says this system 'was launched in the Netherlands in 2011 and will be introduced to other European markets in 2012'. But all you get when you click on the link is 'page not found'. In Dutch."

Good Guy Nokia

Nokia went the furthest out of all manufacturers included in the report. Since 2001, the company has attempted to remove illegally mined tantalum from its supply chain. Suppliers are instructed to map routes metals take before reaching the company. But the issue is far from solved:

"[Nokia] tells me that 'there has been no credible system in the electronics industry that allows a company to determine the source of their material'. There are now six initiatives by governments, voluntary groups and companies to try to get the blood out of mobile phones, and Nokia is involved in all of them."

Two months ago a new provision of the US Dodd Frank Act, which obliges companies to discover whether the minerals they buy from Congo are funding armed groups, came into force. It remains to gets worse as many companies are hiding behind trade associations. Three corporate lobby groups - the National Association of Manufacturers, the US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable - are now suing the US government to have the new law put aside.

"Global Witness has called on some of their members – including Caterpillar, Dell, Honeywell, Motorola, Siemens, Toyota, Whirlpool and Xerox – to publicly distance themselves from the lawsuit, without success."

Monboit wraps up with the conclusion that there's much more to investigate and perhaps this could be crowd sourced. He puts forward the idea of consumers contacting phone manufacturers to discover whether they belong to said lobby groups and ask if they will publicly denounce the lawsuit, suspending membership until it's dropped. It would definitely send out a strong signal where the companies stand.

It's an interesting read and definitely worth checking out.

Source: The Guardian; Thanks, MAkhdar, for the tip!

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

  • True +1 for the article
  • Just for that my next phone will again be a Nokia phone.
  • Another reason Nokia will be further supported by me, and another reason to cheer for the success of a good company that actually cares about people.
  • "legit"?
  • I believe its a new island off the coast of africa
  • Legit is an abbreviation of legitimate. It basically means it is authentic, honest or legal e.g. "This is a legit Rollex", "This contract is legit" etc. It's even a dictionary word :P
  • That makes sense. I wasn't even aware you could abbreviate legitimate. I thought it was relating to legs or something else that made no sense.
  • Rad. Now make a phone with a keyboard without materials from the Congo.
  • That's my company!
  • WHAT!? stephen elop? :D
  • Blood Phone: Because Diamonds Aren't the Only Things That Are Bloody, coming soon to a theater near you.
  • Can Samsung, one of the most corrupted companies in the world, do the same?
  • Korean? They ONLY know how to cheat, steal, others inventions!
  • They can't even look after the people in their own factories, never mind suppliers.
  • Nokia the best! The only company that really does care about people and its users
  • A little harsh ... though it may have seemed true for the last 4 years.
  • Would you say that Nokia is..... Doing da most?
  • Love my Lumia 820.
  • So people want to pull out the self congratulatory BS because a company does slightly more than nothing on one of the many issues where production and distribution in the phone industry are ethically and morally bankrupt. How about looking at the others? Guess what? They are as bad as anyone else. Real change comes with real action, not shell games and empty gestures.
  • Bitter much?
  • Kind of a theme with this poster....
  • They are one of the greenest companies in the world, they treat their employees right, they actually support the platform they are on, what other company does as much as them? Especially on android
  • Go Nokia. Though I doubt any company is free of corruption. I will give Nokia props but I cant trust any companies motives. Its all about the money. Saying you're a trustworthy company is just a stunt to pull in more consumers. Not buying it completely. Sorry.
  • One more reason I'll be buying a Nokia for my next handset. On this subject: has anyone else watched blood diamond recently? That movie (and this article) strengthens my resolve to avoid funding these conflicts in Africa.
  • I own the film. It's very well put together and really shows you what really goes on behind the scenes to get the diamond from the earth to a ring on someone's finger. I feel like everyone should watch it at some point.
  • Haven't seen it yet, but will soon. Thanks for The advise.
  • How about making their product support ethical too????!?!?!?!
  • Jog on moron.
  • As with everything, there is the obvious risk of green wash as e.g. last year's debacle in the US concerning ultrabooks and their environmental rating comes to show. I think that Nokia has for a long time been an active supporter of these corporate social responsibility agendas, but as has been shown time and time again, they are of little value when a consumer makes a choice which smartphone to buy.
    For as long as there is no credible threat for manufacturers using shady streams of raw material to be publicly named and shamed, there will be no incentive for the vast majority of companies to act. For example, if anyone has been wondering the great leaps in greener motor technology the recent years, one needs to look no further than states forcing more stringent standards for products. If e.g. the European Union would demand that all material sources on an assambled product would have to be traceable to their root, and would prevent entry to the market from products unable to verify such roots or pointing to "blood minerals", we would see in matter of few years every brand adhering to these more stringent standards without them having any notable affect to the consumer prices. Even though free market is great, it would take a highly enlightened consumer movement to create a counter-force to present negative aspects of globalisation
  • Nokia makes their phones in Vietnam, India and China. There simply is nothing ethical about Vietnam and China.
  • You must be from India.
  • Nice to know the company who's product I am using is doing their part. This just made my Nokia +10 cooler. Well done Nokia, truly well done.
  • My next phone definitely will definitely be a Nokia. I only thought this kind of thing was related to diamonds.
  • Newsweek green rankings: Nokia 14th greenest company one earth and the greenest technology equipment company of them all.
    Apple 213th
  • Wooaaaah! Reminds me of blood diamond.. I cried while watching that movie.. And decided on my part..
  • I genuinly find this hard to believe because the Lumia 920 is made by Foxconn in China. I highly doubt Nokia get any special terms imposed for the wherabouts of the materials in thier phones. When Nokias where made in Finland I would say that they did care where they soucred the materials but I really do find it hard to believe if that follows in China. The Chinese are the srots of people who just care about the money, not for the workers, environment or customers. It is true. What my Chinese classmates tell me.