- What is the price of the mouse composed of?
- Does the mouse even still have a future?
- How is the term »fair« being defined in this project?
- Why not Vietnam? How do Asian factory workers benefit from the project?
- To what extent is the issue of waste disposal being considered in this project?
- To what extent is the problem of climate protection considered in this project?
- Why a mouse actually, why not a computer or a mobile/cell phone?
- If an entirely fair mouse isn't possible, does a partly fair mouse actually stand a chance of getting marketed?
- What does the outlet market look like?
- Why are conventional mice unfair?
- Further FAQs for journalists
- Is it fair to have our mouse manufactured in a sheltered workshop for mentally disabled people?
- To what extent is the problem of climate protection being considered in this project?
- If an entirely fair mouse isn't possible, does a partly fair mouse actually stand a chance of getting marketed?
There are various illustrations on the internet, depicting the exact cost breakdown of a product according to its respective costs for material, management, advertisement, administration etc. in a seemingly clear and simple way. We believe that such an illustration will create more misunderstandings than it will actually answer any questions. From our point of view, it would suggest a content that doesn't actually comply with reality on closer inspection. Therefore, we will stick to disclosing our supply chain as transparently as possible for the time being in order to illustrate the facts the best way we can. Detailed explanation
A question that inevitably comes to mind considering recent developments like touchpad and touch screen. It seems though that the mouse will stick around for a few more years.
Here's a quick overview:
The PC mouse has been in existence for about 40 years now, even though it only is in wide use since about 15 years. The largest manufacturer is a company named Logitech. During the years 2003-2008, it sold an average of 100 Mio. PC mice per year.
Taking into account the recent development of touch screens as well as the increasing number of laptops with a built-in touchpad, some experts anticipate a rapid drop in demand for the mouse in the near future. However, internet research suggests that the mouse isn't that much of an endangered species regarding most of the new technologies, especially not when it comes to office computers, because the new ways of entering data don't have any particular advantages compared to the mouse here. Therefore, entities such as public institutions, for example, are very likely to continue to use mice in the near future. In order to be able to use a touchpad, one first has to buy a new PC. Additional expenditures for a more advanced technology, however, are usually only being made if there is a clear and visible benefit, especially concerning work places in the public sector, which means there will be no purchases of new PCs unless there is a solid reason for it.
Even if the mouse should indeed become a phase-out model in the coming years, the efforts to establish a fair mouse are still not to be considered pointless. For the mouse is a good model for experimenting with how a business like this might be build up and launched. The experiences gained here can then be transferred to other electronic devices. What is more, the fair mouse project aims to increase the awareness and demand of fair electronics in general, which then can be met by offering further (fair) electronic devices.
Depending on one's personal background and outlook on life, it might be confusing when the term "fairly traded" is being used without direct reference to developing countries. The original meaning of the term "fair" suggests that goods and products are being traded to the benefit of both sides without one side being excessively exploited. This way of trading should actually be called "normal". But in our extremely globalised world today, it is anything but self-evident. Whether this way of trading ought to benefit particularly the poor regions in developing countries, remains a controversial issue.
In our project, the term "fair" means that the mouse is being manufactured without any exploitation or violations of human rights (details here). This may appear ludicrously moderate and unambitious at first. Considering our current situation and our respective possibilities as a small project, though, it almost seems like a pretentiously ambitious goal. (see complexity of supply chain) On top of that, as a long-term perspective, the project aims at supporting both male and female workers in the developing and emerging countries concerned in a sustainable way: With our mouse, we hope to instigate a certain trend of development, which eventually will prompt even larger companies to act accordingly. Due to their size and market power, these companies will thus be in a much better position to implement better working conditions even in classical producing countries such as Vietnam. The guiding principle of the project therefore is to achieve a fair production chain within the currently existing structures.
Now of course it would seem only natural to have the mice produced in countries with a respective infrastructure already in place, such as China or Vietnam. In order to do so, we would have to make agreements with the manufacturing partners in those countries regarding sustainable production standards and see to it that these agreements would actually be adhered to by means of appropriate prices, regular checks and provided assistance on our side. However, when cooperating with Asian partners, one needs to take into account that, as experience teaches, intercultural differences can prove to be a serious challenge, especially when it comes to human and labour rights. Without a deeper understanding of the culture of the respective country, it will be very difficult to make sure that the production conditions comply with our ideas of sustainability. As observations of standard practices have shown, even the most elaborated monitoring efforts did not lead to the desired outcome here. Apart from that, such sophisticated measures are simply not feasible for a small project like ours. That is why, for now, we have decided to go for production locations where we can assume that the working standards comply with certain norms without the need for special agreements and checks.
In a (very small) nutshell: We seek to be a role model and to point larger companies in the right direction in the hope that they, too, will eventually improve the working conditions within their factories.
The proper disposal of waste electronic equipment is a widely discussed topic within the electrical engineering sector, the background of this discussion being resource scarcity as well as environmental and human rights problems, not only in mining but also on the disposal sites in developing countries. It is not uncommon to see children of primary school age work on these sites, either mining or reclaiming precious metals from waste electronic equipment for our electronic devices without any (health) protection, just like their grown-up colleagues. During this process, they are exposed to highly dangerous and health-damaging chemicals. If we want to avoid this, we need to be very vigilant of whom we hand over our waste electronic equipment for disposal.
In the production process, it is our goal to use as many recycled metals as possible, preferably reclaimed from local factories. The idea of re-use has proven especially useful and progressive in the discussion about sustainable disposal and recycling: by re-using not just the raw materials but entire functional units, a large portion of the process costs (including social and economic costs) could be saved. Yet in spite of it being quite a volatile and politically charged topic, we don't mean to focus too excessively on the question of to what extent the humanitarian and environmentally friendly re-use is being considered in the construction of the fair mouse. This is mainly due to the following two reasons:
For one thing, according to various disassembly and recycling companies, disused computer mice are not being disassembled into their component parts, but shredded completely. After that, the re-usable precious metals are being removed and separated. This seems to be common practice at present.
For another thing, even the most re-use friendly mouse unfortunately ends up as household waste in most cases: only a quarter of Europe's waste electronic equipment (among which our mice will also number one day in a hopefully distant future) is currently being disposed in a proper way. In other words, 75% end up on a disposal site.
Which is why we don't want to put too much effort and energy into the construction of a re-use friendly mouse for now. This might happen at a later stage. For the time being, we will stick to explicitly stating on the package or, if possible, on the shell of the fair mouse that, while it was manufactured under sustainable conditions, an environmentally friendly and socially compatible disposal is only possible if being dropped off at a relevant department. A reference regarding the value of the contained precious metals might serve as an additional motivation for the user not to dispose the mouse in the household waste, but to return it to be recycled. In the end, however, the responsibility lies in the hands of every consumer. It is his or her decision whether their electronic devices are going to be disposed in a sustainable way or not.
By using recycled tin-solder, to give one example, we are not only preventing negative environmental effects that are usually caused by mining, but we are also saving large amounts of energy, which significantly improves the carbon footprint of the fair mouse. Also, due to the fact of being manufactured in countries where the relatively strict environmental laws are mostly being complied with, the production has fewer harmful effects on the environment in general and on the climate in particular, as opposed to conventionally manufactured computer mice. Last but not least, the regional marketing (the mice are being both manufactured and also mainly sold in Germany) prevents unnecessary transportation routes.
After we unsuccessfully tried to find some suitable recycled synthetic material to use for our mouse, we decided to go for a material made from renewable resources. Because we also wanted to adequately consider other environmental issues besides climate protection, such as water and air pollution, soil degradation or habitat and biodiversity destruction as well as human rights protection, we picked the raw material very carefully: the chosen synthetic material, called Arboblend, mainly consists of wood waste and all of its components are made in Europe.
First of all, the PC mouse is a device so simply structured and small, it makes an implementation of the project seem actually feasible. Other devices would be too complex to begin with, meaning one would have to make too much of a compromise right from the start. Second, the mouse is universal and non-specific: every mouse with an USB port can be connected to any random PC and used with any system software. Computer mice that are used in common offices usually don't need to fulfil any specific requirements and the users also mostly don't have any specific preferences regarding the producer, as they would have when it comes to their PCs.
While - apart from the key differentiator, the shape of the shell - there certainly are some technical differences as well (cordless or not, laser or LED etc.), the market is still undoubtedly dominated by optical mice with cable and LED. Other technical specifications are relatively costly and thus don't seem to be compatible for mass use at the moment. With an LED cable mouse, we are looking at a manifold market and sales potential .
Another advantage of the mouse being such a small and budget-friendly device is that even when its price is doubled, it is not going to create any large deficits in any household budget. Which is why public procurement authorities, for example, presumably will be more easily inclined to bear those minor additional costs.
If an entirely fair mouse isn't possible, does a partly fair mouse actually stand a chance of getting marketed?
Our mouse is going to be by far the most sustainable IT product currently available on the market, and we know we can't stress that enough when marketing it. While we can't completely rule out exploitation for now due to the centralised structure of the supply chain, the degree of exploitative labour with our mouse has been, compared to its "fellow " anyway, significantly reduced. Therefore, while not entirely fair, this mouse can be rightfully called considerably sustainable. . It is by far the fairest alternative and should therefore be preferred to other mice at any rate.
It is also important in this context that the project PHeFE keeps its dynamic character: We will not lose sight of our goal to eventually create a really fair mouse. Any further efforts to make the production process of the mouse even fairer (see above) will be documented in a transparent way and publicly accessible at any time or upon request.
The market we mainly want to target is public procurement on one hand, but also people who belong to the group of LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability).
For a few years now, several independent organisations have been publishing information from well-researched studies on inadequate working conditions in the electrical engineering sector (compare links). The value-added chain in this sector, which is considered to be a high-tech area, is being dominated by manual labour executed in emerging and developing countries . The social standards in those work places usually don't comply with the generally recognised norms as determined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and in many cases not even with human rights in general. These circumstances are widely known from many other sectors, particularly from agricultural production, but also the textile industry, for example:
A disproportional number of overtime hours, extremely health-damaging working conditions, exploitative child labour, substantial environmental destruction that does serious harm to people in the surrounding communities etc. define the day-to-day business in the electrical engineering sector as well. Particularly affected are those tasks and work stages that are (for cost reasons mainly) less engineered and mechanised. This is where an especially large number of unskilled workers are being hired since they are not specialised and thus easy to replace and very cost-effective too.
To give an example, this is the case with the extraction of raw materials, most of all mineral ores from which metals such as copper, tin, gold or tantalum are won. These raw materials often come from developing countries where the exploitation of even very young children in mining is particularly frequent. The health consequences as well as the environmental destruction in those areas are devastating. Not to mention the production of oil which is the basic natural source for any synthetic material. The violation of human rights is no exception when it comes to the extraction of this "everyday product".
In addition, the assembling of electro-technical individual components and assemblies is mainly carried out manually by unskilled workers. Sometimes one can find children do the work here, too, although considerably fewer than in mining. The fact is that the working conditions the assembling is being carried out under usually don't fulfil the respective national labour and environmental laws in any way.
There are fewer reports on the working conditions in the production of small components but since this often takes place in emerging and developing countries as well, it can be assumed that the problems occurring there are very similar. Occasional reports do substantiate this assumption (see lenses, capacitors). Due to the high degree of mechanisation in this area, the number of those affected is a little lower compared to assembling, yet the negative environmental effects are at least just as high due to the intense use of special processing chemicals.
For critical consumers, it can be quite challenging to bring their purchase behaviour into accordance with social standards since all companies more or less draw on the same suppliers . Thus the working conditions behind the products of the various brands at best show marginal differences, and no differences at all in the area of the individual components. While there still is comparatively little widespread knowledge about the wrongs and shortcomings within the supply chain of the electrical industry, several independent organisations keep working to inform and educate the public about these problems on various levels.
Our mice are produced by Retex, a sheltered workshop for mentally disabled people. We decided to cooperate with this workshop, because there, the needs of the employees are catered for to a very special degree. You can find details about this in our agreement with Retex, which records Retex‘ basic principles.
After we unsuccessfully tried to find some suitable recycled synthetic material to use for our mouse, we decided to go for PLA (polylactic acid) a material made from renewable resources, in our case sugarcane. Today, the casing of our mice consists to 80% of renewables. Because we also wanted to adequately consider other environmental issues besides climate protection, such as water and air pollution, soil degradation or habitat and biodiversity destruction as well as human rights protection, we picked the raw material and producing factory very carefully:Among agricultural crops, sugarcane is efficient both in surface area and energy needed for production. Beoplast, where the injection moulding of the casing takes place, is a company producing CO2-neutral.
Our mouse is going to be by far the most sustainable IT product currently available on the market, and we know we can't stress that enough when marketing it. While we can't completely rule out exploitation for now due to the centralised structure of the supply chain, the degree of exploitative labour with our mouse has been, compared to its "fellow " anyway, significantly reduced. Therefore, while not entirely fair, this mouse can be rightfully called considerably sustainable. . It is by far the fairest alternative and should therefore be preferred to other mice at any rate. It ist also important to see that the project of NAGER IT is a dynamic one: The aim to produce a completely fair computer mouse will not be kept sight of. Further efforts, to create a fairer and fairer production process for the mouse will be made transaparent and will be accessible on demand or publicly.