A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of travelling to Dachau, Germany, and learning about the atrocities committed at the concentration camp located there. When I say located there, I mean, smack bang in the middle of the town of Dachau, on a main road and only a few kilometres from the city of Munich. As we went through the day, I finally voiced the question that had been ringing in my head all day long. I asked our guide, almost in frustration:
“How could they not have known what was going on in here?”
In his beautiful thick German accent he said,
“Oh Richard, we choose to see what we wish to see. Blindness affects us all.”
The truth of his response almost took my breath away in that moment. The graciousness of his words even more so, because the words were uttered by a 90 year old survivor of that very camp.
As a documentarian, those words have become a mantra not just for my work, but for my own life. What am I choosing not to see right now? What am I blind to in this situation?
So its not surprising that his words came ringing back to me (German accent and all) as I was confronted with a video of worker conditions at the factory that makes my precious iPhone 6.
Now before you stop reading… hear me out. I’m not an Apple hater. In fact, talk to anyone who knows me and I have probably been the biggest Apple evangelist they know. I have the phone, the tablet, the laptop, the desktop; I even bought the Trash Can (the new MacPro tower that could launch the space station).
I love Apple – the ease of use, the intuitive interface, the style, th… blah, blah, blah (there I go evangelising).
Over the years, I’ve heard the rumours of terrible working conditions. I’ve heard the odd story of contaminates. I’ve heard the craziness of what it takes to satiate the west’s almost insatiable appetite for the latest gadget… Right Now!!! Give it to me Now!!!!
In one way or another, I’ve always either unwittingly turned a blind eye, or to be honest, probably even taken steps to protect my self-inflicted blindness. Like just not reading that story, or as most of us Appleites would do, relegate such stories to untruths and jealousy slung by those “un-washed” PC users.
For some reason, this video captured me. Its not exactly that well put together (the video that is, the iPhone 6 is amazingly put to…. there I go again). The commentary is somewhat boring. The lead characters aren’t especially compelling. And maybe its because I have become inoculated to the conditions in Asian factories, but on first viewing the conditions didn’t exactly stun me. They were bad, yes. I would never work there, and I’d never let my kid to work there, but “hey, it’s Asia, right!?!”
The video was a nuisance… It somehow, cured my blindness to this issue (and in all honesty, I wasn’t looking to be cured). And as ole Brooke Fraser says, now that I had “seen”, I was responsible.
So I began a search. And just like the car you’ve never seen before, that now magically seems to be everywhere you look now; I found a host of material on how my mobile phone habit is causing mayhem in Asia, India and as far away as sub-saharan Africa. It was everywhere on the net.
From slave labor mines that supply the metals, to military-esque type factories with 10’s of thousands of workers, to the now behemoth issue of mobile rubbish sites (that will never ever degrade).
Yes, my head had officially been deep in the sand. There is no shortage of information of who is doing what in the mobile industry… if you really want to know.
Crisis point! What do I do?
I felt there was only one thing I could do. Better get rid of my iPhone 6 and get a better phone (a more ethical phone).
Little did I know the journey I was about to embark upon. You see, while the research shows that Apple is “bad”, the research shows that most of the major brands are too. In fact, the evangelist in me, smiled when I realised that Apple is towards the top of the “Bad” pile. The conclusion I came to in all my reading and looking around was that no mobile company is perfect, far from it. But there are some that are making deliberate and continuous attempts to deal with the very real issues their industry has. They would all say they are trying. Just looks like some are trying a bit harder than the rest.
Everywhere you looked Fairphone seemed to lead the pack in these attempts. Not perfect, but specifically established to try and produce an ethical mobile.
And as ole Brooke Fraser says, now that I had “seen”, I was responsible.” bk_color=”#bcbcbc” text_align=”text_center” title=”Text on the button” target=”_self” color=”theme_button” icon=”none” size=”wpb_regularsize” position=”cta_align_right” button_align=”button_right”]tricker[/vc_cta_button]
Some major brands where making some good attempts as well; Huawei, Acer, even Alcatel.
If I was going to do this, I was going to try for the best. I sold my iPhone 6 via Trademe (went in less than 24 hours). Bought a Fairphone via Ebay Germany (only place I could find one, they are sold out).
I excitedly opened the packaging when it finally arrived (convinced I have one of the only Fairphones in New Zealand. I know I will be corrected on that front.) It’s bulkier than my old sleek iPhone 6, a bit less refined. I charge it up, not with a flash Lightning Bolt charger, but a simple micro USB (that I had to go buy, cause it doesn’t come with one). I put my Telecom sim card into the back and hit the on button.
Now it’s not that the Fairphone was slow, its just I had gotten really used to iPhone’s speed. It came on… Hey, I could go on and on about the differences and they are many. The iPhone 6 is a quantum leap in front of just about everyone. The Fairphone wouldn’t work on the Telecom network, so I was going to have to change phone companies even. But that’s not the issue, is it?
Would I be willing to change my lifestyle, my convenience? Would I be willing to not have the absolute latest tech, right here and right now, if that meant that workers… people… humans just like me might possibly be treated better by my change in buyer behavior?
And what if… what if a few of us began to do the same? Is it not at least feasible to think, that by simply “demanding” for their rights, before mine in my purchase behavior, I could not only help make their world a better place, but eventually maybe even influence those brands that I love to change their behavior, so that we could have both.
Sounds like a better world to me. There for me to see if I’ll open my eyes to it. There for me to create if I’m willing to use some of my “power” for some of those in the world who don’t have the same power yet.
Storyteller, Abolitionist, Human