Fairphone – the world’s first ethical smartphone!
Today sees the first unveiling to the public of the world’s first ethical smartphone. The Fairphone has been developed by a Dutch company who hope to sell 25,000 of these new phones. As consumers we now thankfully have a choice about the food , drinks or clothes we buy, if we take an interest in where our clothes come from we can chose to buy Fairtrade or organic. However can you say the same about that little piece of expensive technology in your pocket? The short answer is no.
Our phones contain a plethora of rare metals, many of which you have probably never heard of. Many of these metals are mined in conflict zones, because the minerals change hands so many times on their way to the market, tracing the supply chain can be difficult.
The extraction of the raw materials is followed by the manufacturing process, and we’ve all heard stories of workers being exploited in the manufacture of smartphones.
The Fairtrade movement has changed the lives of many people in the developing world, so if this same model could be applied to consumer electronics, could the lives and working conditions of more workers be improved?
Making this come about would be a joint effort between consumers and manufactures. The problem is that whilst consumers would prefer their phones to be made in such a way, they are not fully aware of any exploitative practices going on. The small number of large manufacturers have little incentive to inform their customers about the unpleasant practices behind the manufacture of their products. The only financial incentive manufacturers have to improve the manufacture and supply chain is to avoid negative press stories, which is balanced against cost. For one of them to overhaul their processes at great cost would only benefit them financially if they widely publicised this change, and therefore be forced to admit and critique their past practices.
What it takes from the manufacturer side is a new competitor who can base their whole business model on being ethical and so won’t have the hang-ups of existing manufacturers. This is what has happened in other industries such as the chocolate industry. Large established players such as Mars would not have made some of their products Fairtrade had smaller new entrants to the market such as Divine Chocolate built up the demand and expectation from consumers for their chocolate to be fair trade.
Hopefully Fairphone will represent the beginning of a change in the electronics industry, leading consumers to question the origins of their electronic products and hopefully pressure established manufacturers to clean their act up.
The Fairphone isn’t the only product which aims to do what Fairtrade has done to tea to the electronics industry, the Fair Mouse is produced by Nager IT again with similar aims to make the manufacturing more transparent and shift electronics production out of sweatshops, improve working conditions and rights as well as ensure the raw materials are sourced ethically.