Concerned about the impact mass adoption of smartphones is having on the supply chain and the environment, two men from the Netherlands want to change the mobile landscape. Fairphone proposes that consumers change the way products are made, by putting Mother Earth and those who work in the supply chain first.
Back in Amsterdam in 2010, Bas van Abel, former creative director at Waag Society -- an institute that develops creative technology for social innovation -- and Peter van der Mark, founder of Schrijf-Schrijf, shared a dream. They both wanted to make the electronics supply chain a better place for workers and the environment. They started an awareness project about conflict minerals in the electronics supply chain, and called the project Fairphone.
Bas van Abel and Jaime de Bourbon Parme (Conflict-Free Tin Initiative) during their visit to the mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
After three years of intense work, it became clear to them that to uncover the story behind the sourcing, production, distribution, and recycling, they needed to actually make a phone. They gathered an international team of like-minded professionals to create a smartphone designed to forever change the mobile phone supply chain.
The result: Fairphone, a cool smartphone that brings fairness and sustainability to the supply chain.
Fairphone is described as the world's first collective, non-profit mobile phone developer. The device contains minerals from conflict-free certified mines from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The production process aims to ensure good labor conditions via a specially established fund that will pay decent wages to the workers.
Miguel Ballester Salvà (CTO, Strategic Product Designer, Fairphone), and Bas van Abel (founder, and CEO, Fairphone, Author Open Design Now), visiting manufacturer A'Hong in Shenzhen area, China
Movement for sustainability
"As a designer, it disturbs me that no one in the world truly understands how a mobile phone is made," says Bas van Abel. "By buying this phone, you put social values first, and join a movement to change the way things are made."
With a price tag of 325 euros (including taxes) in Europe or $440 US, the company expects to invest part of the profit to fund future interventions in the supply chain. Pre-orders are currently limited to Europe, with a delivery schedule late in the fall.
The Fairphone runs Android with a rootable operating system; features dual SIM capabilities; is easy to repair; and comes with a replaceable battery. You can find the complete specs here.
Thinking ahead to the phone's End of Life (EoL), Fairphone joined existing e-Waste programs, has a sell back program established, and offers spare parts of all crucial components through its sales channels.
After a successful crowdfunding campaign that has sold, as of writing time, 15,220 of 25,000 smartphones, the first conflict-free minerals phone has become a reality. Phone manufacturing began when pre-orders reached 5,000 units.
The Conflict-Free Tin Initiative
Fairphone joined the Conflict-Free Tin Initiative (CFTI) delegation, visiting the tin mine in Eastern Congo as part of the company's plan to use conflict-free tin for soldering the smartphone’s components at the assembly stage.
After the copper ore is extracted from the mine in Katanga, in the southern province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is carried by workers in 60kg bags to be washed.
In the following video, Jaime de Bourbon Parme, Special Envoy Natural Resources, Diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Netherlands, who was part of the delegation, explains the Conflict-Free Tin Initiative (CFTI):
The goal of the Conflict-Free Tin Initiative introduces and supports a controlled, conflict-free supply chain outside the control of armed groups. Its goal is to create demand for conflict-free minerals from this region in the Democratic Republic of Congo, thereby promoting economic development and regional stability. Fairphone is working closely to make this happen.
Here, and below, you can see the tracing mechanism of the conflict-free tin supply chain in detail:
(Source: Conflict-free tin initiative)
As the smartphone market becomes saturated with so many options, maybe it's about time we started thinking, evaluating, and adopting those devices that contribute to a radical change and betterment of the supply chain through sustainable innovation.
First image of prototype Fairphone version 1
— Susan Fourtané is a freelance journalist based in Finland.