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
As a huge fan of academic magazine ‘Foreign Policy’ I came across the recently published article ‘Can Silicon Valley Save the World?’  written by Charles Kenny & Justin Sandefur. In this particular article the current boom of start-ups in Silicon Valley is addressed whereby these particular start-ups attempt ‘to save the world’. New (information) technologies combined with huge amounts of venture capital are used to generate products and services which aim for improvement of the average living standard in the Third World. Although the idea of gaining efficiency and productivity, and thereby fighting poverty, is one which I personally strongly support, the outcome of previous projects seem to have epically failed.
Technology, and especially IT, has contributed to breaking out bit-by-bit ‘forgotten’, isolated areas of this world by enabling them to participate in economic and social globalization. However, these areas have not (yet) benefited substantially of this participation. Improvements have been made, but as the article points out: “[M]ore than half the planet still lives on less than $4 a day, and 2.4 billion people live on less than $2 a day. And that’s after a decade that saw the biggest drop in extreme poverty ever.” Pursuing the idea of technology being able to save the world, Silicon Valley – rewarded and supported by the global community – finally considered itself to become an agent of change, and therefore came up with fancy technology-improving and information-sharing projects that in the Western opinion should be the holy grail to creating economic wealth and social welfare for the Third World.
What Charles Kenny & Justin Sandefur correctly address is that those fancy projects are committed to the way that Western societies would solve the problems that the Third World is facing. In countries where education, institutions, infrastructure, health care and basic nutrition are lacking, westernized knowledge and solutions do not cope well with adapting to this corrupt and poor (in every sense of the word) environment. This is demonstrated by the failure of multiple projects mentioned in the article.
In my opinion, Silicon Valley – or not anyone for that matter – should give up on attempts to increase living standards in countries where poverty rules. However, the strategy for tackling poverty should drastically change. Instead of analysing defaults and inefficiencies from an American point-of-view (as is the case here), those should be approached with an African, Asian, Latin American or Middle East perspective.
IT should provide access to the global knowledge-based economy to those areas in need. Additional resources and educational tools should be provided on how to access the global knowledge network, subsequently providing the opportunity for developing countries to collect and process fundamental information on which they can base their own practical insights regarding problem-solving: from their own local and/or national perspective. Silicon Valley needs to provide seed to enable the Third World to grow their own plant, instead of providing a plant that does not acclimatize to its environment.