Wednesday, 19 November 2014

How to Have a Conflict-Free Computer

by Bunmi Hazzan

When I first started taking ethical issues in the electronics industry seriously, it was easy to say I was boycotting certain brands because, well, I already had a laptop. And not just any laptop mind you, I was running 8 Gigabytes of RAM and a dual core i7, so even at two years old it held its own pretty well against the new kids on the block.

But then, as it turns out, laptops that fall from bed height don't work too well after the impact, and just like that, I needed a new computer.

Let's go back in time, I've been a computer geek since the Middle Ages, I remember “Social Networks” when they were called Newsgroups, and I have indeed started a few flame wars, filed under ‘Things I'm not Proud of.’ Anyway, the point is, when I'm buying a new anything, especially a computer I'm looking for the best I can afford to get. It needs to be able to handle video editing, music production, a few games here and there and many hours of late night writing sessions.

Whereas before I would buy whichever I deemed the most suitable, now I’m considering their stance on ethical issues, such as conflict minerals out of the DRC and involvement with the Israeli Defense Force.  Choosing ethical computers shouldn’t have to mean sacrificing quality, but it just might.

So, I do my research, and I find that by now, most, if not all, electronic and computer manufacturers have a “Corporate Social Responsibility” page somewhere on their website. This is where they tell the world how much they love the environment, the planet, and the people in it, by not using, supporting or otherwise endorsing [insert environmentally damaging substance and/or corrupt regime here]. In particular; they all say they don't use minerals procured from conflict zones. It’s great that it's being acknowledged of course, if only it were that simple.

Information on these pages varies greatly. Some companies offer a plethora of information and details about what exactly it is they're doing about the issue; others just put up a few sentences. That being said, the amount of information doesn't really help one decode if they're lying or not. Many are not backed up by third party reports, and to make matters worse, many third party reports are at least two years old.

So who do I believe? Is it enough to say, ‘Well, if they're lying, it's on them?" I would like to give people (even big corporate juggernauts) the benefit of the doubt, but in this case that involves people’s lives; I need to be a little more sure. As much as they all profess to not using conflict minerals, none of them state officially how involved they are with the IDF. Yet, there are much more recent third party reports available suggesting at least a few of the big players are snuggled up close with them.

While I’m trying to avoid all of these, I find that although some manufactures might have a pretty good ethical stance, they’re using parts by manufactures that don’t. And when these parts inside are found in the vast majority of computers being sold today, it cuts my options down immensely. The only computers I could find that were, as far as I can tell, completely ethical, weren't up to the tasks I’d require, maybe if all you do is update Facebook, but that would not suffice for this old time traveller. Now, my choices are: learn to make do with an underpowered POS, or not have a computer at all.

The thing about choices, there’s always at least one other option that maybe isn't as obvious, but every bit as viable.

The other option:

Self-Built PC

BH the Uncivilised, some call me Bunmi Hazzan, but a time traveller has many names. I've existed for over 10,000 years and lived over 9000 lives. Travelling through time, space and multiple dimensions and writing about my experiences and observations. Or, in other words, I analyse art, and create art. The driving license I hold in this realm claims I have residence in London, England. The truth is I spend most of my time in upper regions of my cerebral cortex. I am, that poet.


maggie dodson said...

Great article! But I was almost shouting at my possibly very questionable laptop, Which ones? Tell ! I want details !!

E. Amato said...

Thanks for the comment! Sourcing and policies change all the time in these industries, so it's probably best to research when you're in the market. Part two will address how to create your own, without relying on one company and its policies.

BH the Uncivilised said...

Indeed, it's not easy to know for sure how committed a company is, but I'll give a few examples in part 2.

PS. I'm really an 80s child, cliffhangers are in my nature ;)