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There is perhaps no greater a focus when it comes to ethical tech than the mobile phone industry. But ensuring your next handset purchase is an ethical smartphone is no easy task.

This section will explore some of these issues, and suggest the networks and handsets that rank best for human rights and are the most environmentally friendly, according to The Good Shopping Guide’s comprehensive ethical comparison research.

Keyword-ResearchLook out for our new sector-specific Ethical Accreditation certification marks which now cover over 15 different consumer product sectors. These are additional to our original Ethical Company mark that features on the packaging of over 100 million consumer products every year.

Ethical SmartPhones – Addressing Conflict Minerals

Conflict minerals are a huge issue in the mobile phone industry. The fact is that the mineral trade has funded some of the world’s most brutal conflicts for decades.

ethical smartphones

Graphic: Credit Global Witness.

A recent Amnesty International and Global Witness report has revealed an astonishing amount of US companies fail to meet a proposed conflict mineral law. As it currently stands, some of the biggest and most popular global tech brands face constant criticism due to frequent links between their supply chains and human rights abuses.

Child Labour

To add to the above, a 2016 investigation by Amnesty International exposed the use of child labour in supply chains behind smart phone batteries used by such major electronics brands as Apple, Samsung and Sony. To quote the Amnesty report:

These child miners, some as young as seven, live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), central Africa. Given that more than half the world’s cobalt comes from the DRC, that one fifth of it is extracted by artisanal (or informal) miners, and that around 40,000 children work in southern DRC where the cobalt is mined, there’s a chance that our phones contain child labour.

Yet phone manufacturers – global brands including Apple and Samsung – won’t tell us if their cobalt supply chains are tainted by child labour. They have a responsibility to do so –to check for and address child labour in their supply chains, setting an example for the rest of the industry to follow.


Many toxic chemicals go into mobile phones, making their disposal a potential health hazard. This often takes place in the developing world, where labour costs and environmental standards are lower. Greenpeace and Amnesty International highlights the danger that some workers are exposed to when processing old mobile phones without proper equipment, and has persuaded some companies, including Sony and Nokia, to eliminate harmful chemicals including flame retardants and PVC plastic from their products.

If you are one of the 15 million people in the UK who are disposing of a mobile phone this year, you can help to alleviate the environmental strain by recycling your handset. Many supermarkets, charity shops and mobile phone retailers offer recycling services, often for a good cause.

Ethical Comparison – Mobile Phones and UK Networks Detailed Table

Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.

Interesting in ethical smartphones? We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following smartphone brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Giffgaff,O2, The People’s Operator, Virgin Mobile, Fairphone, Huawei, HTC, NEC, Vodafone, EE, Blackberry, Motorola, LG, Sony, Three, Microsoft / Nokia (Lumia), iPhone (Apple), Samsung.

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