Mobile phones

Ethical shopping guide to Mobile Phone Handsets, from Ethical Consumer

Ethical shopping guide to Mobile Phone Handsets, from Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

This guide includes:

  • ethical and environmental ratings for 14 brands of mobile phone
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • price comparison of the brands


This guide is part of a special report on Mobile Phones, Networks and Broadband which includes:



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Best Buys

as of Nov/Dec 2013

As our ratings and research are constantly updated, it is possible that brand ratings on the score table may have changed since this report was written or brands may no longer appear.

The Best Buy for smartphones is Fairphone.  

For a basic phone, a ‘feature’ phone or a cheaper smartphone, Nokia fared best for its policy rankings, including conflict minerals and environmental impact. But its sale to Microsoft means its rating has dropped from 7.5.

Buying second hand will always be an environmentally preferable choice.


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Mobile phones for dummies


  • A basic mobile phone makes calls and texts. They are not-smartphones and are sometimes called ‘dumb’ phones in the industry.
  • A ‘feature’ phone is a low-end smartphone or not-so-smartphone. There is often not a great deal of difference from a smartphone except they are usually cheaper and have less apps (software applications).
  • A smartphone is a phone which usually has a music player, camera, GPS navigation, web browsers, a touch-screen and lots of apps.




Price comparison


The are two main ways of buying a mobile phone:

  • A pay-as-you-go deal where you buy your own phone and pay for each call, text or time you spend on the internet.
  • A monthly contract where you pay a set amount each month, usually by direct debit, and either get a phone ‘free’ or a SIM Only deal which you can use with any phone.

Within these two options there are literally hundreds of different deals available (Orange alone has 28 different monthly contract plans). You could liken it to the energy market, where different providers blind you with complicated alternatives and try to lock you into deals for anything up to 24 months.

The Which? website, used in conjunction with our own ethical information, is a useful guide.



For mobile handsets we’ve picked best buys that cover a range of prices. The Fairphone, which you can pre-order now before its release in December, is £280. You can get a Nokia feature phone for as little as £16. A new iPhone will cost upwards of £400.



If you choose a contract on our best buy network O2, you can get an older iPhone model for around £17 per month with 300 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of data for surfing the net.

You can get a SIM Only contract with Green Mobile for £10 per month with 50 minutes talk time and 50 texts. You can get 500MB of data for an extra £7.50 per month.

TPO does a SIM Only deal for just £5 per month for 50 minutes of talk time, 50 texts and 50MB of data.

The Co-operative do a SIM Only deal for £15 per month this includes 100 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of data.

O2’s cheapest SIM Only deal is £8 per month for 100 minutes, unlimited texts and 100MB of data.



Mobile phones tackle Indonesian tin problems

Samsung, Philips, Nokia, Sony, Blackberry, Motorola and LG Electronics have all publicly accepted that their phones are likely to contain tin from Bangka island, Indonesia. According to Friends of the Earth, mining of tin there is destroying tropical forests, killing coral and wrecking the lives of communities.

This now leaves Apple, alone among the best-known brands, failing to give a straight answer to more than 27,000 customers who have asked if it sources tin from Bangka island. This is surprising given that Apple is one of the most progressive mobile phone company on its sourcing of conflict minerals from the Congo.

The moves were prompted by Friends of the Earth’s investigation into the devastation caused by mining for tin on Bangka. Tin is used as solder in all phones and electronic gadgets and around a third of the world’s mined tin comes from Bangka and neighbouring island Belitung.

The FoE report ‘Mining for Smartphones: the True Cost of Tin’ revealed:

  • Dangerous and unregulated tin mining on Bangka – police figures show that in 2011 an average of one miner a week died in an accident.
  • Coral and sea life threatened – silt from tin mining is killing seagrass eaten by turtles, killing coral reefs, driving away fish and ruining fishermen’s livelihoods.
  • Farmers struggling to grow crops – soil has become acidic after the destruction of forests for tin mining.

Email Apple from the FoE website.





Company profile



Problems in Apple’s supply chain persist despite its supply chain policy protestations.

In July the BBC reported accusations against Apple of violating at least 86 workers’ rights within several Chinese factories. According to China Labor Watch, three factories of an Apple subcontractor (Pegatron) “violated a great number of international and Chinese laws and standards as well as the standards of Apple’s own social responsibility code of conduct”. These violations were said to include under-age labour, contract violations, insufficient wages, abuse by management, poor working conditions and excessive working hours, with an average working week of 66, 67 and 69 hours within the three factories under investigation.[1]

The company hierarchy, however, is enjoying better pay and conditions than ever before. The Apple annual report states that in 2012, Senior Vice President of Operations, Jeffrey Williams, had been paid a total of $68,691,612: Senior Vice President, Bruce Sewell, had been paid a total of $68,989,812; the Senior Vice President of Technologies had been paid a total of $85,540,637; and Chief Financial Officer, Peter Oppenheimer, had been paid a total of $68,591,562.

Those executives look set to get even richer with Apple starting to supply the US military after the armed forces ended Blackberry’s exclusive contract. There are currently 41,000 Apple devices used by the US military and this figure is set to rise dramatically over the next few years.[2]

This isn’t the only relationship between Apple and the US military. 

French authorities have launched a preliminary investigation into the US National Security Agency’s Prism surveillance program after French human rights groups complained it was snooping on citizens’ emails and phone calls. The groups named Apple as a potential accomplice of the NSA and FBI - Google was also named.[3]


See detailed company information, ethical ratings and issues for all companies mentioned in this guide, by clicking on a brand name in the Score table.  

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This guide is part of our special report on mobile phones and broadband