In the much-hyped world of smartphones, the issue of unethically sourced materials is nothing new. For years smartphones have been manufactured with materials whose origins are at least suspicious, if not downright harmful.
There’s the eastern Congo for example, where rival factions have been warring over raw materials for years. War crimes abound, many of which have been documented by the UN. This is a place from which most smartphone producers source their copper, tungsten, and gold, among other valuable items.
This is the problem the Fairphone aims to solve. The Fairphone is a modular mobile device that’s easy to repair and upgrade. Its components are ethically sourced, and easily recyclable. It’s an honest device, and literally transparent. With edges traced by a protective rubber rim, dual-sim capacity accompanies a 5 inch HD LCD screen to form a device tailored for safety and efficiency, without compromising its ethical ambitions.
But mainstream smartphone producers have been comparatively slow on the uptake. Two trade associations, the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), offer public investigations into the production practices of major smartphone producers – the result is often a peripheral interest in ethical sourcing, at best.
The verdict is clear: mainstream smartphone manufacturers are not making a conscious effort to track the sources of their materials. There is little risk assessment, and little consideration for the millions of lives already lost to conflict by keeping these materials in high demand.
The conscious consumer will have a problem with the repercussions of the manufacturing process of their favourite electronics. To call these materials ‘blood-soaked’ may not be an exaggeration.
Fairphone’s opinion is that these issues offer opportunities for improvement. “We are starting new relationships between people and their products by showing where stuff comes from and how it’s made,” they say. “By creating the Fairphone,” they add, “we’re opening up supply chains and processes, and starting discussions about what it means to be fair.”
The Fairphone’s transparency seems to want to foster a closer connection between people and the technologies they use, where each component is easily discerned by the user, and open to user input. The device is mostly constructed from aluminium and recycled plastic – an easy observation to anyone who ventures to use one. With Fairphone’s components and their sources out in the open, the supply chain is no longer an abstraction, but a fair, ethical partnership between user and manufacturer.
The new Fairphone 2 ships this February, and is available to pre-order on the co-operative mobile network.
Photo credit: Fairphone under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA license.