Fairphone is a Dutch social enterprise that is working to build sustainable and conflict-free smartphones. Fairphone sources conflict-free tin and tantalum from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo and works closely with its manufacturers to improve working conditions in its factories. Fairphone also focuses on durability, reparability and the availability of spare parts that can be easily replaced to extend the smartphone's usable life. Building a phone that lasts longer reduces the overall toll on people and the environment. Fairphone aims to achieve long-term transformational change, leading by example to expand the market for ethical products and giving a voice to consumers that care about social values.

Key facts:

  • 60,000 Fairphones have been sold so far and 20,000 Fairphones 2 have been pre-ordered. Profits are invested in social innovations within the electronics industry
  • Fairphone runs on the Android operating system. The Fairphone 2’s inventive modular architecture gives users more control over their phone, including the ability to easily open and repair the most commonly broken parts
  • Fairphone plans to produce and sell 140,000 smartphones per year starting in 2016

The problem

Every smartphone contains more than 30 different minerals from the mining sector. There are four minerals that are generally considered to be conflict minerals: tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. Conflict minerals fund rebel groups, contributing to political and economic instability while neglecting workers’ rights, safety and their ability to earn a fair wage.

Manufacturing in the consumer electronics industry is demanding and involves labor-intensive production processes. Workers are often not paid a living wage and lack employee representation, while working long hours in conditions that infringe upon health and safety.

Every year, consumers throw away millions of mobile phones contributing to the world’s e-waste crisis. This is occurring because most phones aren’t built to last and people constantly want to upgrade their devices. By making a seriously cool smartphone with a longer-than-average life, Fairphone delivers a product that people want but one that also builds longevity and repairability into its design.

The solution

In 2013, Fairphone was officially established as a social enterprise with the aim to develop a smartphone that puts social values first. The main motivation for founding Fairphone was to open up and gradually improve the electronics supply chain by making a more ethical phone and, as a result, create a more sustainable economy.

Fairphone seeks to create positive changes in four key areas: mining, design, manufacturing and life cycle.

Helping the planet

Fairphone addresses the full lifespan of mobile phones, including use, reuse and safe recycling. Fairphone is designed for longevity by being durable and containing parts that can easily be replaced by the user if something breaks. Fairphone sells spare parts and offers repair tutorials to help make the phone useful for as long as possible, plus adding features like dual SIM to make the phones more attractive on the secondhand marketplace.

It also works with partners to set up projects in Ghana to improve local waste collection efforts and transport discarded phones to Europe for safe recycling. Fairphone’s Take Back Program helps ensure that old mobile phones are reused or properly recycled.

The smartphone has been designed to be long-lasting and Fairphone has partnered with iFixit to create open source repair guides.

Helping people

Fairphone proves that companies can make a profit while putting social and environmental values first.

For example, Fairphone works closely with its phone manufacturers. To determine the conditions at a factory and recommend improvements, Fairphone runs a social assessment program. Based on the social assessment, Fairphone works with its phone manufacturer to make a number of concrete improvements, ranging from fire safety and protective equipment for employees to systemic challenges such as working hours.

Together with its Fairphone 1 manufacturing partner in China, Fairphone built a Worker Welfare Fund. For each phone sold, money is invested in the fund. A committee of worker representatives is elected by the workforce to implement projects for spending the available funds on safety upgrades, wage increases and training and skills development. Fairphone is in the process of building a Worker Welfare Fund together with its manufacturing partner for Fairphone 2.

Spillover effect

The first buyers of Fairphone 2 have enabled the organization to kick-start Fairphone 2 production and continue investing in social impact projects while remaining independent from external investors. Since mid-July, 20,000 people have pre-ordered the Fairphone 2. Deliveries are expected to start in November this year.

The strategy for the second edition will move from batch production to continuous production. The company’s aim is to work towards a stable production schedule, based on demand – in order to prevent overproduction or peak periods so that assembling plants can plan carefully and offer stable work. The goal is to produce and sell 140,000 Fairphones per year and expand to other countries beyond Europe.

By showing there is a market and demand for ethical products, Fairphone can motivate the whole industry to act more responsibly.

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