The Guardian today has reported that an Indian company has just launched the cheapest smartphone in the world which will retail at £5. International development organisations are increasingly using mobile phones to help lift the world’s poorest people out of poverty, using them to advise on everything from education to health. Yet last month the Guardian also reported an Amnesty International report which showed that most smartphones contain cobalt mined using child labour in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. How do you reconcile a £5 Indian smartphone designed to help the poor being made with child labour in the DRC?
When it comes to mobile phone ownership there is still a stark urban and rural divide with many poor rural people still not being able to afford one. Despite having one of the highest mobile phone ownership levels in the world, this is true of India as it is of many other developing countries.
A cheap smartphone could help revolutionise the plight of the rural poor around the world. After all information is power. On a Rainforest Alliance trip to Kenya I saw this potential for myself where innovative payment plans using mobile money were helping to bring solar lighting to poor tea plantation workers.
One way to reconcile the conflict would be for charities and development organisations to put much more pressure on big phone companies like Vodafone to bring out their equivalent of the ethical Fairphone 2, launched with the Phone Co-op in the UK last year. The company works directly with suppliers that trace materials back to mines in the DRC which uphold high ethical standards.
That way there may come a day when we can promote a smartphone for £5 which doesn’t use child labour.
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