A new ethical smartphone is on the market, and is stocked exclusively in the UK by a co-operative. Billed as ‘the first smartphone that puts social values first’, the Fairphone FP1U is built with conflict-free minerals and made in a factory with a worker-controlled welfare fund.
The Phone Co-op is the only UK mobile telecoms provider to stock the Fairphone. It is already proving the business’s most popular handset ever, and is bringing in new customers.
Produced for Amsterdam-based Fairphone BV, the Fairphone aims to challenge the mobile industry over supply chain transparency. Mobiles contain metals including tantalum (sometimes called coltan) and tin. Both are plentiful in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where militias have seized many of the valuable mines to fund conflict. Fairphone BV works with the Conflict Free Tin Initiative and Solutions for Hope Tantalum to source from conflict-free mines.
The phone is manufactured in a factory in China, under a contract that feeds $5 into a welfare fund for every unit produced. So far the workers have made 60,000 phones, which has generated $300,000 for this pot. Shop-floor workers elect their colleagues to operate the fund, which is designed to support projects that benefit their communities.
The design of the Fairphone is focused on longevity, repairability and safe recycling. Fairphone BV is encouraging consumers to keep their existing mobile as long as it works, but for those who buy a Fairphone, it is selling spare parts and offering repair tutorials to help them keep their handsets useful for as long as possible.
The phone is one of the few handsets to take two SIMs simultaneously, which prevents the need for two handsets for work and personal calls, and could benefit regular travellers who use SIMs from more than one country. Unlike with the iPhone, owners can easily replace the battery, extending the life of phones and reducing waste.
Fairphone BV is also working with partners to set up projects in Ghana to improve local waste collection services and to transport discarded phones to Europe for safe recycling. Its-take back programme also helps to ensure customers’ old mobile phones are reused or properly recycled.
Vivian Woodell, chief executive of the Phone Co-op, said: “We’re delighted that our partnership with Fairphone means we’re 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. 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’re 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.
“The Fairphone is the Phone Co-op’s best-selling handset, and has boosted the levels of those joining our mobile and business telecoms offerings.”
The Fairphone evolved from an open design project launched by the Waag Society, a Dutch non-profit organisation which connects art, science and technology with the media. It is part of the society’s drive to change the supply chain and the way the electronics industry works, little by little, making specific interventions and setting a roadmap for future interventions.
The phone runs Android version 4.2.2 on a quad-core 1.2GHz processor. There is an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera, a 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera, 16GB of expandable storage and a 4.3-inch (960 x 540 pixel) display protected by toughened glass. It is available from the Phone Co-op with no upfront charge from £22 per month.