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A fairer phone?

Technology for the more conscientious consumer

A fairer phone?

Dear all,

Our firstborn has gone all ethical and principled on us. As if not eating meat wasn’t enough, this year she decided to become a Vegan. This means she is not just a vegetarian, she is a vegetarian who eats no animal products whatsoever. And it’s not just dairy products — she does not even eat honey anymore!

Not even honey I exclaimed! Yes, she replied, on the principle that we do not need to eat animals or steal animal products either….

Her ethical viewpoint is being applied to all parts of her life, even her phone. I offered to help her buy a new iPhone but instead of being thrilled to hear this she informed me she planned to get an ethically produced phone.

This seemed a little odd to me, but the idea seemed interesting enough. The actual phone took a while to arrive because each batch of phones is only produced after a certain number of orders are placed. The phone is called, appropriately, the Fairphone.

The Fairphone is a good looking Android phone, quite solid and unflashy. But it’s more than just a phone; it is a movement. Fairphone challenges accepted notions of production, and consumer exploitation. What they say about their story is this:

“Fairphone started in 2010 as a project ….to raise awareness about conflict minerals in electronics and the wars that they fuel and fund in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2013, we established our independent social enterprise to design and produce our first smartphone and take the next crucial steps in uncovering the story behind the sourcing, production, distribution and recycling of electronics”.

Conflict minerals are the minerals mined in conflict zones (in Africa mainly), in mines often worked by small children or prisoners and operated by militias.

The conflict mineral supply chain has been much publicised and well-documented in recent years; yet most of us do not think of it as we set out to buy a new high-tech phone.

But Fairphone reminds us this is important and they present us with a product built on the notion of fairness and ethical dealing: they say they aim “to integrate materials in the supply chain that support local economies, not armed militias” and that they are starting with conflict-free minerals from the DRC to stimulate alternative solutions.

Also interesting is the fact that the Fairphone movement is trying to move people away from the notion that phones have short lifespans and need to be replaced as and when the manufacturers and advertisers tell you they should be. They say they are “addressing the full lifespan of mobile phones, including use, reuse and safe recycling”.

Because of this, their phone despite being a smartphone has an easily openable back and a completely replaceable battery. The Amsterdam-based group basically advocates social entrepreneurship and advocates finding better, fairer and more ethical ways to do business.

Thanks to firstborn, I have been introduced to this pretty impressive project.

Although I initially scoffed at the ‘ethical’ phone, deriding it as a hippy and impractical idea, I am pleasantly surprised by the strong moral position taken by the movement.

And I am delighted to know that so far more than 48,000 Fairphones have been sold. This means that even in this crazy, greedy, consumeristic world there are at least that many people who genuinely want to do the right thing.

We live and learn….

Best wishes

Umber Khairi

The author is a former BBC broadcaster and producer, and one of the founding editors of Newsline.

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