Improving working conditions, being sure of the origin of its raw materials and encouraging recycling are the three crucial issues for Fairphone - the very first ethical smartphone.
The aim is not just to provide good working conditions, but also to encourage social innovation within the industry.
Behind all smartphones, there is rock. Forty or so different ores, rare earth elements and metals are required for them to work – for example tin, coltan (ore that produces tantalum), tungsten and gold. In some parts of the world extracting these ores creates considerable pollution, and in others is accused of financing armed conflict. Miners are sometimes working in difficult and dangerous conditions. But the Fairphone company, led by a Dutch designer Bas van Abel, decided to adopt a pragmatic approach and change the industry from the inside out. It therefore buys its raw materials in the most dangerous area - the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where it hopes to support local economies and reduce the environmental impact of mining activities. Fairphone has selected certified mines and is involved in several initiatives that trace the entire process followed by the ore mined there. For example, the Conflict-Free Tin Initiative provides a system of traceability and due diligence that ensures that tin mined in South Kivu complies with the legislation (such as Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act) and is not a source of funds for the informal or illegal economies.
Your smartphone is American? Or from South Korea, Hong Kong, possibly even France? Whatever country it has been designed in, there's a good chance it was assembled in the city of Shenzhen in southern China. And it is therefore here that Fairphone has chosen to produce its phone and so "create a positive impact in areas where the supply chain is the most active”. Bas Van Abel’s team uses carefully selected partners that are audited on a regular basis. The long-term goal is not only to provide decent working conditions and pay fair wages, but also to promote social innovation in the factories. How? By providing training so they acquire new skills, improving representation and developing the ability to act (election of staff delegates, participation in decision-making, etc.).
Finally, Fairphone has been designed and manufactured using a circular approach which gives it a longer life. It can be easily repaired, sold on the used market, and recycled. Fairphone aims to fight planned obsolescence with the emphasis on the best possible and systematic recycling of its devices.
Although Bas Van Abel is aware that for the time being it is impossible to produce a 100% ethical mobile, he has managed to create something that is much more than just a seriously cool smartphone. Fairphone is a genuine social and environmental project, which aims to be transparent and may well prove that it is possible to gradually change the way our products are manufactured.
- Official Fairphone website