Fairphone: the first social responsible smartphone?

In the year 2010, a new initiative was born: creating an ethically sourced smartphone with the aim to raise awareness about conflict minerals in electronics and the devastating effects of wars on sourcing these minerals. After 3 years of research on means to realize this product, finally in 2013 the Dutch social enterprise Fairphone was set up through crowdsourcing and additional funding. Fairphone’s vision statement – “a seriously cool smartphone that puts social values first” – embraces it all: Fairphone is launching a Samsung Galaxy and iPhone look-a-like smartphone based on a fair process of designing, creating, and producing.

Nowadays, most of the minerals included in our smartphones come from so-called conflict zones: sources for electronics-minerals are often held by warlords and armed groups in some of the most dangerous and poor regions in the world. Imagine that at least 30 minerals are needed to create a decent smartphone… The damage done by the demand we put on the market for smartphones, and the amount of people affected hereby is therefore tremendous. Fairphone is striving to create a 100% ethically-sourced smartphone, with the hope to change the industry from within and make supply chains more transparent. The Fairphone would enable other companies to more easily join this ‘social responsible’-movement and access ethically-sourced minerals.

However, it has been admitted that 100%-ethical sourcing currently is impossible. At the moment, only 2 out of 30 minerals – tin and tantalum – are sourced ethically in the DR Congo, implying that 28 minerals still have an unknown source. The term ‘ethical sourcing’ indicates that the minerals are conflict-free: rebel groups do not have access to any profits. Ethical sourcing is realized by partnering up with NGOs, thus in order to source all of their minerals ethically, their network of reliable suppliers need to be extended. However, the term ‘ethical sourcing’ does not cover fair labour practices necessarily. Nevertheless, the small-scale production in China is supported by a fund to assure fair wages and good working conditions. The set goal is to improve sourcing and production with every incremental improvement of the Fairphone. 

The Fairphone will be available in December, for the price of €325. Currently 15,562 pre-orders have already been placed. Production will start once the amount of 25,000 pre-orders has been reached. As mentioned before, the appearance of the phone is somewhat between the Samsung Galaxy and the Apple iPhone. The phone will be unlocked, supported by different carriers for network connection, and the phone will run on a custom version of Google’s Android. Additionally, to improve the phone’s lifespan and discourage waste, Fairphones are easy to open up and an instruction manual will be provided so that users can execute repairments themselves. Another attractive feature is that the phone has to SIM card slots, which enables users to merge their personal and business lines.

An official introduction provided by Fairphone.com


Honestly, were you aware of the damage the production of smartphones is causing? Would you be willing to buy such a smartphone (not considering your current financial funds)?  Or is it simply not relevant to consider what our smartphones are made of?



Why It’s Hard to Make an Ethically Sourced Smartphone?

Business Week, 20th of September – Caroline Winter



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