How a small Dutch company could be changing the smartphone industry for the better.
Since September the Amnesty International Society at UCL has been campaigning to raise awareness about the presence of conflict minerals in our smartphones. A few weeks ago one of our blog posts called attention to shocking practices in Apple’s manufacturing process, and what little information we have about other transnational firms’ proceedings is not more encouraging. Hearing about this can make us feel that, in the absence of an alternative to turn to in protest, we are powerless to bring about change. Fairphone, a social enterprise based in the Netherlands was created precisely for that purpose, to offer us a choice, a say in how our technology is produced.
“Together we can change the way products are made”
Fairphone uses only minerals extracted from conflict-free areas within the DR Congo. While conflict-free minerals are available from other countries, the goal is to mine where it can contribute to alternatives to current practices. The company can respect its engagement not to fuel conflicts without taking revenue away from the DRC’s fragile economy and while empowering workers and improving the livelihoods of the local population. Although because of the complexity of the supply chain there is always a risk of illegal minerals being smuggled in, Fairphone works in partnership with organizations such as Solutions for Hope to guarantee transparency in the origin of the minerals they use.
The fairphone is then produced in China by partners chosen for their willingness to work on social and environmental performance. Every step of the chain is investigated to make sure that the company’s engagements are respected. Fairphone works with several different NGOs to guarantee decent living and working conditions for the people manufacturing their phones. And their commitments don’t stop after the phones are sold. A part of their profits is given to Closing the Loop, a programme that works for the reuse and recycling of old mobile phones.
The result of all this is a £275 phone that, while not comparable to an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy, users seem to be happy with. So will Fairphone revolutionize the smartphone economy? Probably not. Around 60, 000 fairphones have been sold since the product was launched. As a point of comparison when Apple launched its iPhone 6 it sold 10 million units within three days. Yet while representing only a tiny proportion of the market Faiphone is still making a big difference. It is raising the public’s awareness, and the mere fact of its existence is putting pressure on bigger firms to clean up their supply chains.
Join the movement #WeAreFairphone
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