Where indeed? With the increasing frequency and strength of tech companies coming a cropper, from Facebook being heralded as a threat to democracy on account of its unregulated media power or Uber being fined into the millions in both the U.K. and U.S. on account of data breaches the organisation grossly mishandled, what’s evident is that closer examination of tech ethics is required.
Market facing scandals are one thing, but so too we have Amazon, who despite recently having raised pay across its global empire in response to dedicated campaigning are still being challenged on account of its internal treatment of workers.
Though you may not have heard it, in the midst of Black Friday’s media madness, its warehouse staff last week went on strike globally, in protest at poor conditions and meager wages.
Beyond the impact on consumers and employees, what’s also becoming evident is the impact of tech on society at large. Sharing economy darling, AirBnB, may have disrupted the global travel industry so travelers can pretend to live in the destination of their dreams.
Yet, in doing so, are driving up house prices, and displacing the very people who made it a great place to visit in the first place.
With the threat of AI and robotics looking to threaten fundamental human rights too – replacing both low income and middle-class jobs in its wake – regulation is only just starting to crank into action, as society and lawmakers understand the consequences of the unchecked tech power that has run rampant for the past two decades.
However, regulation isn’t necessarily a necessity. Tech organizations and their leaders have a choice as to whether they behave ethically or not.
Concerns surrounding the impact on profit abound, but there are organizations out there that measure value by more than just the bottom line. Not just through heralding its corporate social responsibility work either. Businesses instead are finding ways to bake ethics into their business model, and in creating sustainable businesses, are seeing economic success follow closely behind.
Alternative banking wunderkind, Monzo, are case in point. Solely app-based, it’s this and its open, transparent way of doing business that is attracting under-thirties. 560 thousand of them globally, and in just under three years,
For an audience typically anxious and stressful about money, removing charges when people are most vulnerable financially, automatically switching to lower cost service providers and being open about how and where account-holders money is saved and invested on their behalf makes it an incredibly attractive proposition.
Attracting over $4 million in investment, despite heavy losses in its first few years, has been possible through treating its customers as stakeholders in the business. Opening up beta testing – receiving direct feedback and developing the online bank’s experiences and offerings accordingly – it’s this hyper-personal relationship that’s driving its ethical approach to banking, and gaining loyalty in return.
Fairphone, on the other hand, is looking backward to its supply chain. As a social enterprise, they have committed to using conflict-free minerals where possible, in addition to recycled plastic, to create the first ethical smartphone. In doing so – and integrating into the supply chain to drive change where it’s still needed – they’re tackling modern slavery in its wake.
Making the handset modular too – removing the expense of having to replace the whole device when one item breaks – Fairphone’s approach to the mobile industry is shining a light on the less than scrupulous and customer friendly practices on its competitors, fundamentally shifting the status quo of the standards a tech company can achieve.
With 10 thousand customers pre-ordering the phone upon launch in 2016, and €2.5 million in community contributions to a 2018Crowdfunder to help amongst other things, fund fair cobalt for use in productions and introduce certification for material use, what’s clear is, people are happy to fund where investors might be reluctant to trust, and in doing so, proving the appetite for ethical tech.