Fair trade coffee is widely known and successful, but what about fair trade computers? This was the question of a session at the re-publica conference back in April with Frithjof Schmidt (member of the European parliament) and Andrea Manhart from the Ökoinstitut in Freiburg (ecological institute).

The labour conditions of workers, who manufacture notebooks in China are burdensome. Environmental problems of the production process are widespread as well. “A price raised of 30 euros would significantly improve these conditions,” says Andreas Manhart in a pioneer study (German) titled “Social implications of laptop production.” Other interesting findings from the study were:

  • Despite rising commodity costs, laptop prices have fallen continuously throughout the last years. Production has been changed to locations such as China.
  • Almost all laptop brands are produced by eleven Taiwanese firms, like Qanta, Compal or Wistron, who have the right manufacturing knowledge.
  • The cost of labour is not higher than 30 euro per laptop.
  • The ongoing competition between laptop sellers reduced the profit margin to 3% in average.

NGOs give now more emphasis to the problem of toxic waste. Greenpeace started a campaign with a green electronic guide ranking of laptops. As a consequence to ngo lobbying Apple announced last week “a greener apple” campaign, which promises more recycling efforts and the removing of toxic chemicals . The two blogs greenguy and being the change have a coverage on that.

But a fair trade approach also includes the social implication of laptop production. Its goal is to protect labour rights and guarantee environmental regulated production. A recent survey in Germany showed that many consumers are willing to buy fair trade laptops. Interestingly, A. Manhart said that a certification process does not necessarily bring the solution because it is impossible to monitor the widely distributed value-chain of laptop production especially in China.