The Fairphone

Permaculture magazine
Thursday, 20th November 2014

The new Fairphone means we can choose sustainable and ethical technology! It shows business can change and provide consumers with ethical choices!

Living sustainably and ethically is somewhat difficult in our modern age.

Growing your own food, building your own home and reducing, reusing and recycling are all ways we choose to live more sustainably. But when it comes to technology, there is rarely a sustainable and ethical option.

Finally there is a step in the right direction, with the Fairphone.

The Fairphone is an ethically produced mobile phone, built from conflict-free minerals in a factory with a worker-controlled welfare fund. It is also repairable, making it ethical, sustainable and environmentally friendly. It is availabe in the UK through the Phone Co-op, who hope stocking this product will challenge the mobile industry over supply chain transparency.

Starting life as a successful crowdfunding project from one of Europe's most cutting-edge social enterprises, the Fairphone handset has now entered the mainstream. The Android-based Fairphone stands out from handsets made by competitors often tight-lipped on the conditions endured by the people who make the phones and mine the minerals they contain.

Like many of today's popular gadgets, mobiles are chock-full of exotic metals like Tantalum (sometimes called Coltan) and more familiar ones like Tin. Both are plentiful in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the militias have seized many of the valuable mines to fund their devastating conflict.

The firm behind Fairphone work with the Conflict Free Tin Initiative and the Solutions for Hope Tantalum project to source from conflict-free mines. The lives of electronics factory workers have featured in the headlines, so the Fairphone is produced under a contract that provides for a worker-controlled welfare fund. Shop floor workers elect their colleagues to operate this pot of money, targeted to reach $300,000, that's designed to fund projects that enrich their community.

Fairphones sport sustainable features. For example; the phone has two SIM slots, solving the common problem of having to carry both work and personal handsets, and is a benefit for regular travellers who use SIMs from more than one country. Unlike with the iPhone, owners can replace the battery themselves, extending the life of phones and reducing waste.

From September 2014, The Co-operative Mobile and The Co-operative Business Telecoms brands, awarded a Best Buy by Ethical Consumer magazine, are offering the phone for no upfront cost on pay-monthly contracts.

"We are delighted that our partnership with Fairphone means we are able to build on our reputation as the leading ethical provider of telecoms, by supplying what must be the most ethical mobile handset on the market", says Vivian Woodell, Chief Executive of The Phone Co-op. "Fairphone's initiative raises awareness of important issues about the supply chain for products we use every day. This partnership brings together two of Europe's most radical and dynamic social enterprises, organisations with shared values, to make a difference in our industry. We are proud of what we, together with our customers, are achieving by sending a message to politicians and manufacturers that we care about how phones are made." 

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For more information and a limited offer on the Fairphone visit www.thephone.coop/permaculture

Further resources

The growing computer scrapheap revealed

Your smartphone/tablet as a design toolkit

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