Our path towards a Fair Mouse
Fair working conditions for everyone involved in global IT production! , that is our vision. The Fair Computer Mouse is our contribution to that vision, by offering the industry an incentive to make fair working conditions possible also with their Asian suppliers and the sub-suppliers.
Step by step, we are approaching the seemingly unreachable goal of a computer mouse that is being manufactured without involving any kind of exploitation within the entire production process. Along the lines of: Most Fair → Fairer → Fair
What are our accomplishments so far?
In general, when sourcing the materials, we make sure that wherever possible, we purchase components locally or from countries with very good social and environmental standards. (How does this help Asian workers? → here) If this is not possible, we use the most environmentally friendly option and try to use as many recycled metals as possible. Why these are "fair", you can learn looking at the example of our recycled soldering tin. In order to achieve a completely fair mouse, we approach our suppliers and look for solutions in terms of working conditions in the manufacturing process itself, as well as in terms of the supply source of the raw materials used. For us as small manufacturer, the scope of influence is currently still limited. With growing market presence, however; we hope to be able to bring about more and more improvements.
Phase 1: 2009 -2012
Start of the project and concept of our 1. Version → „Most Fair”:
The mouse was being launched as partly fair while still being the most fair IT product on the market at the time: for the actual manufacturing, meaning all soldering (equipping of the circuit board) and the final assembly we were able to establish a cooperation with the Integrationswerkstatt Retex (a repair and assembling shop that includes disabled people) in Regensburg. By choosing a regional partner, we managed to work around major soldering and assembling factories such as Foxconn or Yonghong, known to exploit their workers by letting them work countless overtime hours while paying them poorly and exposing them to hazardous conditions often leading to contaminations and injuries in their everyday working environment.
With Retex, on the other hand, we find particularly social working conditions , since mentally ill people are being offered individually adapted work requirements. The environmental standards at Retex also are very high according to local requirements. Only in terms of the energy supply, there still seems to be need for action. We hope to be able to convince Retex to switch to green energy in the medium run though.
With the start of our project, one level further down in the supply chain, meaning the suppliers of the individual components, we were able to win some more regionally producing companies with very good working conditions and high environmental standards for our production: microtech teltow for resistors (production based in Teltow), WIMA for capacitors (production based in Aurich), frolyt for Elkos (production based in Freiberg), Vishay for SMD capacitors (production based in Migdal Ha'Emek/Israel), Nichia for LEDs (production based in Tokuhama/Japan), Greule for printed circuit boards (production based in Pforzheim), the Landshuter Behinderten Werkstätten for casing, the Swabian plastic manufacturer tecnaro for casing material from renewable resources as well as other regional firms for the manufacturing of by-products like screws, packaging, labels, dye or soldering agent. The working conditions in the production centres for the other components as well as the pre-suppliers of many components were still unknown to us at the time.
Phase 2: 2012-2016
Further developing our partly fair mouse → "Fairer":
Holding a finished product in our hands, we found it much easier to convey our idea to some of the suppliers and to gain further insights into the production process as well as attain some information on the pre-suppliers. During that time, we visited the circuit board production and the manufacturing site of our resistors, which enabled us to make our supply chain even more transparent. We also realized that our switches at the time had most probably not – like we had presumed until then – been produced by Cherry/zf on site, but rather came from unknown Chinese factories. There don’t seem to be any fairly produced switches as yet. After all, we changed our source of supply to the effect that we now purchase directly from a Chinese factory which we also had already visited in 2013. This means, we now are in direct contact with the management and obtain better insight regarding the labour law-related issues within this factory. At the same time, we visited a potential supplier for fairer cables (located in China as well) and are currently in negotiations about the potential conditions of a fair production. As a first step, we managed to increase the transparency here. Also, in a cooperation with the TU Munich, we further considered the especially sustainable construction of the cable for our mouse. The results are compiled in a students‘ research work (German).
In 2015, we were able to replace the conventional plastic scroll wheels from China with regional scroll wheels made from regional wood. Considering the fact that there usually are even worse working conditions in China’s plastic industry than in the IT industry, the fairness factor of our Mouse has thus increased once more. In 2014, we instigated the initiative Fairlötet which launched their first fair soldering wire made from recycled tin in 2015. This solder wire has since been used in the equipment of our circuit boards as well. The former solder wire was made from tin from Indonesia, which is known for its serious human rights violations. So this can be considered a positive development as well.
... so what‘s next?
Phase 3: 2016-2018
Fair produce from China, fairer pre-components and resource transparency
For the months and years ahead, we aim to purchase fair produced mouse feet made from sustainable material. As incredible as it may sound, but we haven’t been able to find any regional or fair supplier for this simple product so far. Furthermore, we would like to purchase Chinese cables that have been produced as fair as possible and with a transparent supply chain. We would also like to get our Chinese supplier for switches and rotary encoders, Kaihua, to consider providing better working conditions. In both cases, the first steps have been made.
In the meantime, we keep in touch with our regional suppliers who are already producing in a fair way in order to convince them of making their own supply chain more transparent and fair (pre-components and resources). For instance, in 2016, we would like to work on a sustainable circuit board together with our circuit board supplier by using fair soldering tin already during the manufacturing process. Last but not least, we co-operate with the Hochschule Hannover (ifBB) in order to optimise our casing material and to make the whole production even more sustainable. As of now, the resources for the casing are 80% renewable, made from polylactic acid (PLA) derived from sugarcane (for more details, click here).
Subsequent phases starting 2018
We are aware of the fact that even by 2018 we most probably will not be able to offer a mouse that is 100% fair. Remainders on our to-do list until we will have reached our ultimate goal, the Fair Mouse, will mostly consider resources and the question how to best convince our suppliers to use fair and sustainably gained resources and raw materials such as recycled metals within their production. Our hope is that until then there will be a considerable number of other projects similar to ours working on the same issue with whom we could co-operate and whose successes we might be able to adapt for our mouse. Unfortunately so far, there aren’t any concepts for that. Only our request for using so-called conflict-free metals is being met occasionally. But for us, that is not enough. Our position remains unchanged: We are calling for a truly fair production, free of any exploitation whatsoever.
So the question remains what exactly we mean by "fair": We define as "fair" whenever there are no human rights violations and there is no exploitation (see ILO labour standards). In return, this means forced overtime and exploitative child labour are excluded in favour of "good wages for good work“, wage payment in case of sick leave and sufficient health protection, especially in work places with potential health hazards. Details