Who will be the first "Fair Trade" tech company? Moving beyond "green"...

Who will be the first "Fair Trade" tech company? Moving beyond "green"...

Summary: Fair Trade electronics products will be a great way to stand out in a crowded market. Here's how it will happen...

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TOPICS: Laptops
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There's a tremendous opportunity waiting to be grabbed. There's a Wikipedia page waiting to be written.

"The first Fair Trade tech company was ..."

I'm certain that the Fair Trade concept will be applied to electronics, and it's just a matter of when that will happen. I'm convinced it will happen because it's a good idea. And it's a potentially profitable idea.

Let me explain my thinking. Our digital gadgets and gizmos are becoming very cheap, almost disposable -- yet the working conditions for millions of workers in the global electronics industries are deplorable. Even though they often work in bunny suits, in super clean, well lighted work places, those jobs are highly stressful and often unhealthy.

Lets not forgot that those bright, sanitized work places, those clean work clothes, and filtered air conditioning, is not for the workers, it's to protect the electronics from the humans. The wages are poor and the work is grueling.

Fair Trade electronics could help tens of millions of people around the world without making much difference to our wallets. We could easily alleviate a lot of suffering without much suffering on our part, we could afford to pay a bit extra.

Noble goals are important but what will drive the growth of Fair Trade electronics is that it will be an excellent way to make money. It's a great way for companies to differentiate themselves in the market place.

Consider this: All technology products trend towards becoming commoditized -- that's just how things work. How do companies fight commoditization? It's done through differentiation.

- Companies such as Apple do it through design. Take a commodity product, say an MP3 music player, and apply a great design. Design drives sales and it is a high profit value add.

- A lot of computer companies these days proclaim how green they are, how eco aware they are, and how their products use less energy, carbon, etc. "Green" drives sales and it's a high profit value-add.

- Fair Trade electronics is another way companies will be able to differentiate themselves from competitors. Fair Trade will drive sales and it is a high profit value add.

Yes, companies will be able to make money out of Fair Trade electronics and make a difference in the world-- it's one of the wonders of capitalism.

Fair Trade applied to the electronics industry will also be incredibly transformative because the supply chains are huge.

Think of a laptop and how many companies were involved in the sourcing of the components of a hard drive, the motherboard, making the chips, the glass for the screen, the plastic for the keyboard, the springs in the keys, the capacitors, the resistors, and on and on...

To make a Fair Trade laptop would require hundreds if not thousands of companies in the supply chain to have Fair Trade certified work places. So, if a company such as Dell or HP were able to build just one electronics product, a Fair Trade laptop, it would revolutionize a massive sector of the world's electronics industry.

And once a supplier has a Fair Trade manufacturing facility it can then also supply Fair Trade components for a vast array of other Fair Trade electronics products.

The first Fair Trade tech company will revolutionize the entire industry. Who will it be?

Topic: Laptops

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21 comments
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  • I know who it WON'T be!

    Apple. And it's a shame too because with $50 billion in the bank, they are probably the only ones capable of doing it. As the Apple zealots point out with great pride, all of Apple's competitors are barely scraping by.

    So come on Apple, you are the #1 user of slave labour and you have 10s of billions of dollars more than all the other tech companies combined, and you have a larger market cap than any other tech company in the world. You just became a leader after so many years of being a follower. Act like it.
    NonZealot
    • RE: Who will be the first

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  • Dell

    On their Lenovo line. Either them or Sony. Sony needs it more IMHO, every time I go into their local store it's as quiet as a church and they need something to get people in.
    oncall
    • On second though my money

      @oncall

      Says it won't be anybody. While it may be good PR for one company or another, it would be very bad PR for China and the Chinese manufacturers that supply everybody. Fair Trade computer parts would be an admission by that country that they are and have been ignoring their own labor laws, which we know they are doing anyway, and they need the kindness and generosity of American's to come in and make everything alright.
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  • What's Fair Trade....?

    And exactly how will it be applied? Read through this whole article (?) and left none the wiser.....
    rsk02
  • Who will be the first "Fair Trade" tech company?

    I read through this commentary and still do not understand what you mean by a "Fair Trade Tech Company" or a "Fair Trade" Product. To me, that term "Fair Trade" is a legal (and therefore is an elastic) term. I generally understand that your point is there are many people working in deplorable conditions for very little pay. If anyone thinks this ubiquitous condition is not at the foundation of the so - called "cheap revolution" than you need to dig deeper. What really needs to be discussed is to what extent do our great companies and brands stand as a force for fairness, corporate responsibility, free markets, and democracy. Maybe you'll be surprised to learn that they are not at all. As to this commentary; frankly I find it is an example of exactly how our state of culture and civilization today pays lip service to the conditions of human capital flow. In the end we are all victimized by our own greed. We want fair practices and solid corporate responsibility but we darn sure do not want to give up our $300 netbook, or our $100 set top box. One day we may have to pinch ourselves and ask is "globalization" a force for overall good and does it lend to a continuously improving world. You can find statistics to support how Foreign Investment is an important contributor GDP in countries in many parts of the world. Now here is a little surprise for you: the labor content in a given tech product is usually extremely low. Where operating costs are more importantly improved to the companies that move to low labor cost countries, is in the other incentives a host country offers to the foreign investor. Lower taxes is certainly the foundation of these neogiations, but cash grants for training, assistance with critical infrastructure (water, power, transport, etc.), and much relaxed oversight on manufacturing safety and control of effluents, (i.e. post procesd of waste), etc. are also key to the reasons Western companies flock to Asia, Eastern Europe, and elswhere. We all need to get real (and ruthless) if we were to address the inequities that have resulted. You aren't calling for anything less than a complete overhaul in the way we think. By we I mean the company leaders, the consumers, the worlds great foundations and agencies, and the workers themselves. This would be comprised of what we normally call stakeholders. It isn't going to happen easily. In my humble opinion Darwinian forces will remain the defacto operating standard in global markets for quite some time. I have been in SE Asia for 15 years (in the tech business). To be sure there are bright spots here and there relative to this growing problem. But those with the greatest concerns are often the least informed. Thay haven't been in the hovels that some workers live in. They haven't seen how very little freedom of any kind exists for the average factory worker (especially those that are migratory). Pollyannish and way to brief comments is a bit like a spit into the ocean. Just wait until you tell your neighbor that what you mean is the he cannot go to Walmart and buy a 3.95 lawnchair anymore. Oh, and we may as well give up our ideas of what democracy should look like as well. To pull off the changes you call for will be to sacrifice enormously, including some of the very foundations of our thinking.
    simplifried
    • Fair

      Fair is NOT a legal term. Fair to me means I get more. Fair to you means you get more.
      Economister
      • RE: Who will be the first

        @Economister I did not say "fair" was a legal term. I said "fair trade" was a legal term. To use the phrase as an adjective is simply inaccurate. I also disagree with your definition of "fair". In my opinion every transaction, whether we are talking about a large commercial contract, or a simple trade-off with your wife regading shared household duties, must be equal apportion and equitable to both parties for it to be sustainable. Of course, in the real world that<br>seldom happens.
        simplifried
    • RE: Who will be the first

      "To pull off the changes you call for will be to sacrifice enormously, including some of the very foundations of our thinking."

      precisely.
      oasis1489