The Fairphone

by thomasvanklaveren

Authors: Hannah Rowsell, Thomas Van Klaveren, Jennifer Hart, Richard Evans, Cary Leighton, Bryony Aylmer, Harriet Fender

Type: Undergraduate Coursework, University of Exeter Universityfairphone

Availability: In Full below

Page Reference: Rowsell, H., Van Klaveren, T., Hart, J., Evans, R., Leighton, C., Aylmer, B., Fender, H. (2013) Fairphone,,


“A seriously cool smartphone that puts social values first” Link

Fairphone is an alternative for the “thing we can’t live without” with a transparent supply chain and ethical principles built-in. Link

a conscious alternative for consumers who don’t want to head back into the digital dark ages Link

The company has started a fund to insure that the workers at their factory in China receive fair wages and are operating under safe working conditions…. The Fairphone introduces a model with a distinctly unique vision: ethically sourced materials and radical transparency. It features a body made of recycled polycarbonate, tin and tantalum sourced from conflict free mines, and eco-friendly packaging. Unlike most smartphones on the market, the phone simultaneously supports two SIM cards allowing users to merge their business and work phones, reducing the number of phones in circulation. And many of its components are replaceable and upgradeable, so as to reduce waste. Link

The fairphone is light, has a normal size and is even “good looking”; but what we have liked most about it is the fact that is it is just (a) smartphone, a real one, and it does what it says on the tin. Link

In order to support this philosophy, fair phone’s interface design needs to be free from clutter, simple, and very honest.’  Published on May 12, 2013 Link

“It wants the smartphone to be functional, stylish and easy to use “even for my mum” Link

(Fairphone) has essentially crowd-sourced its funding from the thousands of people who have ordered the device without ever actually seeing one. Link

Though its first phone won’t be delivered until December, it has already sold 15,000 sets: to people who want 21st-century technology without 19th-century ethics. Link

‘Fairphone is a smartphone with a difference. It is the world’s first smartphone made completely without harming the planet (or its inhabitants)’. link

‘We are not here to compete with apple or Samsung. We are here to actually inspire the industry to do it differently.’  Link

“An outsider might see Fairphone as a group of activists claiming the whole industry is rotten, but it is not that at all,” he argued. . We want to be part of the system, not to fight against it, but to change it from the inside. ” link

‘The fairphone, as smart as other phones, but fair.’ Link

The world’s 1st ethical smartphone is here. Not made of hemp or wheatgrass, the ‪#Fairphone is sleek and guilt-free  link

But all these social good intentions don’t mean this is a tofu-munching lank-haired hippy of a phone: the Fairphone itself offers the latest Android 4.2 Jelly Bean with a 4.3-inch touchscreen. Link

“As a social smartphone developer, we’re building a stable, high-performance phone that lets you get the most out of your device link

FairPhone works on improving the production of raw materials for mobile electronics, such as telephones, and parts, such as rechargeable batteries.  Link

Unlike the sealed iPhone, the battery on the Fairphone is removable, extending the lifespan of the device. Link

made out of recycled polycarbonate, the Fairphone ticks the eco-friendly box but doesn’t feel quite as premium as some other smartphones on the market’ The independent, 20/09/13 link

We will be selling spare parts and a repair manual…. We don’t include adapters, for instance, since many people still have one at home. Link

three euros from each phone sold will also go to a program that works to remove electronic waste from Ghana. link

(Fairphone) aim(s) to design for long lasting, fairly priced models that can be recycled effectively to ‘close the loop’ and drastically reduce e-waste. (Link )

To improve each phone’s lifespan and discourage waste, Fairphones are built to be opened up and will come with instruction manuals so users can perform repairs on their own. Link

“We use the phone as a storytelling artefact…. It makes it possible to open up the supply chain, understand it, and take action in order to create lasting, systemic change.” Link

“ we’re offering a transparent price breakdown, ensuring buyers understand what their purchase is supporting, improving working conditions and being honest about where the phone’s components come from.” link

We try to ensure that the production of the materials we use, primarily the minerals, is not financing armed groups. “a supply chain that guarantees sourcing minerals from areas that are free from violence and armed guards”  link

Fairphone is the ‘World’s first collective non-profit technology company developing a phone using minerals mined and sold under equity conditions’ link

Fairphone has started production on a phone that they hope will one day provide a model for other companies to build quality products for consumers without ravaging the environment or treating workers like grist for the mill.’ link

‘We could technically source (coltan) from a non-conflict zone such as Australia… But we go to the Congo and China because that’s where the impact needs to be made.”  Link

“The tantalum in our capacitors is extracted from coltan sourced from Mai Baridi, Kisengo and Luba ,conflict-free mines located in the northern part of the Katanga Province, DRC….Our soldering paste uses tin from conflict-free mines in the South Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).” link

By partnering with groups such as the Conflict Free Tin Initiative and Labour Voices, the company is working to make sure all materials are fairly sourced, conflict free and that trade is fair; developing long term, transparent relationships with manufacturers who uphold proper working conditions. Link

“(Fairphone) is a brand that “sources raw materials from conflict-free mines”, pays workers “a living wage” and uses an “open source operating system that anyone can modify..” link

We try to respect workers’ rights on the assembly line in China. We make Clear deals: We try to be as transparent as possible. We blog about almost every step we take, we publish a list of our suppliers and explain why we chose them. Link

‘An alternative to criticising mobile phone giants like apple or Samsung for sourcing components from conflict zones or companies with dubious labour practices.’  Link

‘The Dutch company behind the phone admits that it is not fully ethical, but says it’s a start.’ Link


It’s not our aim to become the biggest phone company in the world, it’s our aim to influence the biggest phone companies in the world,” link

“We want to be part of the system, not to fight against it, but to change it from the inside.”link

“As a social enterprise we work like other businesses, but we are different,” said founder and CEO Bas van Abel. “Our goal is social change rather than profit.”  link

“If you really, really want to change something, you have to be more radical and put the bar very high. It can be futuristic, even idealistic. It can be impossible, but I think impossible is very attractive.”link

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? Link

Emma, Bibi, why did you start Fairphone, and not, say, Fairfridge? Well, it could just as well have been a fridge, of course. But we wanted to try a high tech device, because there have recently been many shocking and eye-opening stories about conflict minerals being used in  these electronics. We wanted to try to tackle these problems and show that transparency isn’t only possible in simpler supply chains like bananas or coffee, but also for highly complex products. Link

FairPhone believe the key to success lies in changing the way electronic lifecycles are managed at every single stage. Link

hoping to embed the concept of fairness in each element of the phone — its manufacturing, software, hardware and the industry ideals it supports. Link

There probably ain’t anything quite like the feeling in your heart when you can pick up your best friend knowing that you won’t get blood on your hands. Link

It’s not the technology that makes the Fairphone unique, rather the mission of the team behind it: to create a fairer smartphone economy by building a phone of their own. The eponymous notion of fairness is wide-ranging; it includes extracting raw materials come from conflict-free mines, ensuring manufacturers are paid a living wage, and running an open source operating system that anyone can modify. Link

“The whole point of the Fairphone social enterprise and the campaign that came before it is to intervene on the ground where the problems have originated,” explained Ballester. “It’s only as a manufacturer that you’re playing by the same rules as the big brands. Then you can have real impact.” link

“Knowing that you’re part of a like-minded group helps us all act more courageously as individuals. The community is an essential part of the Fairphone story. Without a network of informed, motivated, capable people, we’d be nothing more than a great idea. But we won’t settle for ideas, we want action.”  link

“When you buy our product, we want you to know where your money is going. Instead of relying on venture capital, pre-ordering a phone gives you the opportunity to make Fairphone possible and gives us the power to put social values first.”  link

“As a designer, it disturbed me that no one in the world truly understands how a mobile phone is made and when you don’t understand how something is made, you can’t change it,” said Bas van Abel, Fairphone’s founder and CEO ”Consuming is a political act … if you have a choice. With Fairphone, I want to offer buyers this choice, while raising the bar for the industry. By buying this phone, you join a movement to change the way things are made.” Link

“The entire global supply chain is too complex and overwhelming to be addressed as whole. Which is why we’re starting with a single product. One, single, open, high-performance smartphone made as fairly as possible with a transparent supply chain. One step at a time.” link

Opaque supply chains, destructive extraction methods, dangerous working conditions and lack of end-of-life e-waste solutions… are currently endemic to the stories of our gadgetry today. Link

” the very materials that make up the phones are almost exclusively found within “crisis” areas” Link

Conflict in DRC – this “war will continue as long as armed groups can finance their warfare by selling minerals.” Link

we love our cell phones and the selection between different models has never been bigger. But the production of phones has a dark, bloody side. Link

Our organisation promotes a positive change in people’s relationship with electronics: regaining control of the devices we own, by learning to take them apart, troubleshoot them, repair them and prolong their life span. When it comes to mobiles, our motto is that “the most ethical phone is the one you already have,” meaning that we should always try our best to make the most of the devices we have before thinking of upgrading. link

Our consumers have been our best ambassadors. They are part of the community, and as we are always open to discussion, they feel that their suggestions are taken into account. Link

Blood in the Mobile’ came out and people started asking questions’ Link

“You can change the way products are made, starting with a single Phone”. Link

‘If all these people [the miners] move out, they don’t have an economy, so they’re screwed’ Link

We don’t control the whole value chain, of course. You know, we’re just 12 people working at Fairphone in Amsterdam. We don’t have the answers to the problems, nor do we have the capacity to do everything ourselves. What we are doing is creating a community: we’re involving as many initiatives as possible. Link

“We want our smartphone to be made only from good stuff. That means sourcing raw materials that don’t fund armed forces or violent conflicts, from mines that treat people like the human beings they are.” link

“For our first phone, we’ve focused on our factory in China, including creating a fund to improve worker’s wages and working conditions and open discussions between workers and their employers.” link

“We’re approaching a number of organizations to help us improve accountability and transparency in our supply chains. Part of this effort includes providing a living wage, ensuring reasonable working hours, improving working conditions and empowering workers to enter into direct discussions with their employers.” link

“We’ve joined initiatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that guarantee these minerals don’t fund illegal armed forces. By focusing on a single region, we can formalize the mining sector, increase employment for small-scale miners and contribute to economic development and regional stability.” link

Now, let’s just be clear: the Fairphone is not going to be 100% ethical. They are making all sorts of efforts toward reaching that goal, though. For example, their working with the Conflict-Free Tin Initiative and Solutions for Hope to get the minerals they need from mines (and supply chains) that are not funding violence in the Congo. Instead, they’re getting their materials from sources where workers are paid a fair wage. This is not too dissimilar from fair trade coffee or fair trade clothing.  link

“Our ultimate aim is to make new phones entirely from recycled materials. At the moment, we’re exploring the possibility of sharing responsibility with manufacturers for recycling of their products through lease contracts. In addition, we’re building partnerships with companies that collect used phones.” link

Company is striving to bring transparency to the process of manufacturing this technology that has become so ubiquitous throughout developed countries. Link

“To make the supply chain more transparent, we are opening up the entire system to understand what shapes our economy – starting with smartphones. We’re looking at every mineral, component, person and process to reveal the real impact of electronics production, and taking action to make improvements. Some changes will happen quickly, while others may take years. But being honest and sharing best practices gives all of us more power to affect change.” link

“A clear deal also means fair pricing. We want the cost of a phone (€325) to reflect the actual cost of each step, including materials and labor” link

“If there is no mining there is no money. We want to have a commission so that we have somebody who is able to set the metal prices. Because all of us here, the diggers, we don’t have the capacity to know if a metal price is correct or not” Link

Aims to make consumers ‘more critical of their stuff’ Link

To reveal the ‘issues, good or bad, that go around the phone ecosystem’ link

‘Changed from an NGO to a company.’ Scenes of riots in Apple’s factories in China have been beamed around the world, while Samsung recently admitted after another Guardian investigation that its phones contain tin mined from an area that uses child labour and where 150 miners die every year. Link

the Fairphone sends a message to big firms Link

“Those of you who fancy calculating the components costs would be able to do so.” This is a really refreshing attitude especially at a time when smartphones are getting more expensive. link

“We’re working with Kwame Corp Kwame Corp to create an uncluttered, user-friendly interface for our Android OS phone. A social enterprise itself, Kwame’s interface includes fun, informative extras like energy-consumption indicators and an option to switch off notifications and give yourself a break.” link

“Our next steps include implementing additional open design elements. We’re joining forces with open developer platforms like Ubuntu and FireFoxto offer users the choice of OS upon purchase of the phone.” link


“[Fairphone is 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.” (Mattei 2013: link) “[Fairphone] are not necessarily going to solve all the problems of the world, and I don’t think Fairphone can do that” says Basteller, “but we can definitely do something to make it a better place.” (Basteller in Benitez 2013:) Link

“Have you ever heard a company’s spokesperson say ‘yes, of course there’s child labour in our production chain? No. We’re probably the only mobile phone company that publicly admits these problems. We believe that we can only address them if we admit them first.” “This transparency will be the game-changer of the industry.” (Interview with Furniss, E. and Bleekemolen, B. of Fairphone by Verfurth, E-M., 2013: Link

However in terms of ‘fairness’ “notice how everything is “fair” in the production of the phone until it comes to the consumer’s pocket? $434? Really? It’s probably a piece of crap too.” Link.

No-one really gives a shit about conditions in Chinese factories when it comes to shiny goods anyway, do they? link

“You can see that you’re obviously paying a small premium for those ethical credentials, but it’s a reasonable proposition” (Simon Hill, phone review 2013: link), who argues this is not the intended point of Fairphone, instead “everyone should be interested in how their phone is made.” “This is a mid-to high-end phone at a mid-range price. It is designed to be easy to use by everyone, and it can be upgraded.” Link

The phone “is only intended to be ‘fair’ in the sense that it doesn’t cause excessive damage to the environment to produce and doesn’t depend on or support forced/slave labour or fascist/totalitarian states” comments Sarah Minh (member of a New York based activist group ‘Urban Project’: see link), she goes onto suppose that “it seems to be making decent efforts in those regards.” “Whether the Fairphone is for you depends entirely on your priorities. For those who are happy to turn a blind eye to the potentially exploitative practices behind smartphone production, there are more advanced alternatives already on the market and for a better price. But if you care about creating a more ethical smartphone economy and want a decent smartphone to show for it, you’re unlikely to find a better option any time soon.” link

“An outsider might see Fairphone as a group of activists claiming the whole industry is rotten”, “this is not the cases at all” Ballester argues, “we want to be part of the system, not to fight against it, but to change it from the inside”, “…this is a “market in need of a ‘shake up’.” Link

The organisation aim to “…change the industry from within and make supply chains more transparent, so other companies can more easily identify and use ethically-sourced minerals.” Ballester commenting that; “as a social enterprise we can aim for impact maximization rather than profit maximization. That’s a big difference in the business model we have.” Link

However on a large scale this is still consumption driven and “there is no such thing as an ethical anything when it comes to consumerism” (9. Comment by ‘firstamendment3’- Posted on 17/09/2013). In terms of ‘fairness’ this handset remains “nowhere close to 100 percent ethically sourced”; “there are at least 30 minerals that go into the production chain—think copper, cobalt, tin, tungsten, tantalum—and the supply chain for electronics is very complex…all of the individual components have their own suppliers and sub-suppliers.” (Bibi Bleekemolen a Fairphone representative in Winter 2013). Bleekemolen even admits that, “We don’t have a clue where they (minerals) all come from” and of “28 minerals only 2 are completely ethically sourced” (Van Abel 2013)). Somewhat shocking “considering there are dozens of materials that go into a standard mobile, to have just two fair trade may not seem the pinnacle of fairness.” Link

Clearly the “main issue for the mobile industry — that the supply chain has become so difficult”, Ballester commenting that; “I realised that there’s so many industry processes in each component of our mobile phone that any change becomes really difficult.” (Ballester in Best 2013). Combined with the fact there “are so many ways to measure environmental and ethical issues, and a real lack of transparency in the average supply chain” (Hill 2013). Are these not just petty excuses when “the truth is that this world never has been fair, and the electronics industry is about the least fair of any industries. Calling anything fair is just green-washing” Link

“the phone is not a solution in and of itself – it’s simply a vehicle for change.” “(Fairphone are) revealing its story, understanding how it’s made and producing an alternative. By buying this phone, you’re reconfirming that collective action counts and becoming part of a community that has the power to fuel change” Link

Yet “the first step is to actually start selling those phones” (Hill 2013) Link and then “to improve sourcing with each new iteration of Fairphone.” Link

When I stumbled into this after an article in the Guardian, tears came to eyes. Why did you it take you so long? I nearly hurled my phone into the water but I remembered to acquire Fair Phones first. This is the change that we have been looking for Link

Here’s the crux of the issue. Every mobile phone I’ve had to date has been replaced while it’s still functional. Link

‘However, what the Fairphone gives with one hand, it takes away with the other. Absent from the device is NFC and 4G connectivity, but more notably there are no headphones or charger in the box. The company is banking on the fact that customers already own these accessories so providing them would be wasteful.’ Link

Hi, I think this is a fantastic idea and I hope you will be successful, but I have one question though. This phone will be more fair and “eco-friendly” than others, so I guess it is designed to last a little bit more than most of the actual smartphones.
So why not making it compatible with 4G network which is becoming the norm for mobile Internet? With only 3G the phone will become “obsolete” rather quickly, no? (13.9.13, 15:07) Link

Vilibrato (2013) ‘Looks like branding to me,” Link

…we realized if we wanted to make a fair mobile phone, we had to be in the industry – we had to be part of the same system that develops phones. We couldn’t make a fairer phone by being an NGO Link

These things don’t exist yet. The history of ‘invest in our amazing not yet in existence and yet soon-to-be-mass-produced cheap laptop/tablet/etc’ is a history of massive cost and time over-runs, bankruptcies and outright frauds Link

Surely, it’s only a luxury if you don’t need it. And before you say “no one needs a smartphone (a point of view I’m inclined to agree with), the same could be said for a 2nd pair of shoes, a 2nd coat, etc. Better this than complete surrender to unethical, corrupt and exploitative luxuries. link

‘If you do not have an alternative to buy then how can you change the world?’ (London Pop-up Space Recap) Link

“Fairphone intends to manufacture in China because … we feel our model can make a difference in improving working conditions and environmental impacts in China” and says its committed to “creating a fund to improve worker’s wages and working conditions and open discussions between workers and their employers”Link

Fairphone says they “want every worker … to earn a fair wage” but the only concrete step they’ve taken in that direction is to partner with “an independent, third-party social assessment organization to perform an assessment”, “(providing) a similar and equally worthless seal of approval for their factories.” Link

The people behind Fairphone are clearly well-intentioned and want to make the world a better place.  But by opting for non-union manufacture in China, and trying to placate critics with sops like “social assessment” and “open discussion”, they’re ducking the serious issues. A truly fair FairPhone would carry the one label that really mattered: a union label. Link

“The only thing that actually works to ensure the health and safety in the workplace, decent wages and job security – an independent trade union”.. “A truly fair Fairphone would carry the one label that really mattered: a union label” Link

‘On the surface, this appears to be an April Fools joke. It remains to be seen where this goes but my impression is this is a feel good phone and nothing else’ link

ShatteringKatana (2013): ‘it is a good fact that people are employed fairly, but you can’t say “my phone is fair because I pay African people a good salary” while you buy processors from a company who pays its workers 1/10 them what it would pay here’, (Nous Sommes Fairphone) Link


Can’t wait till people are asking me what type of phone I have – iphone, android, or old nokia, or saying “what type of phone is that?” And I can say “it’s a Fairphone” and start a conversation Link

Great, this will make a change from me lecturing the teenagers against Apple factories. Apparently I’m like a broken record, so good news girls, new tune! Link

Workers at the Chinese factory where Fairphones are assembled work a maximum of 60 hours a week (not ideal, but a marked improvement over some of the alternatives). Link

It is apparent, however, that the Fairphone goes further to make a positive impact by redefining the status quo in smartphone production rather than making only incremental improvements. As an early adopter of conflict-free sourcing initiatives, the Fairphone is helping develop a more ethical supply chain, which could in the future begin to be used for other smartphones as well. As a pioneer in this area, the Fairphone receives my vote for a more responsible smartphone. Link

“Our progress in sourcing conflict-free minerals is also directly impacting labor conditions. In South Kivu, DRC the miners’ income has more than doubled from 2 USD to between 4 and 6 USD per kilo. The increased cash flow has given local women an opportunity to sell products to miners and better support their families. Furthermore, working conditions are becoming safer as local cooperatives buy additional equipment for the miners and stabilize mineshafts with wooden piles (Conflict-Free Tin Initiative, 2013).” link

“During the course of its life time, Fairphone has received support from a number of partners, including, Schrijf-Schrijf, ActionAid, Stichting Doen, Vodafone, KPN, Rabo Mobiel, GSM RetourPlan, GSM Loket and many other organizations and individuals that put time and effort in leveraging the potential of Fairphone.” link

Pascal Briod 16/10/13 The soon-to-be-produced ‪@Fairphone already has positive impact on me (and the environment): it makes me keep my old phone for 6 more months link

Thanks to ‪@FairPhone yesterday I recycled tantalum from an old mobile  ‪@novedavi ‪@cyberandy would be proud of me link:

I know there’s the risk that the Fairphone will become a status symbol for ecologically sensitive people Link

Over 15,000 of the initial production run of 25,000 have now been sold and the firm is in discussions with telecoms providers such as Vodafone and O2 with regard to their carrying the phone. Link

The company will look to add fair trade gold and cobalt to future devices, although admittedly both are years off hitting mainstream takeup it the electronics industry, according to Fairphone. In the case of gold, while certification exists, the fair trade version of the material isn’t widely used — something Fairphone’s hoping to tackle by working with the fair-trade association Max Havelaar. In the case of cobalt, used in smartphone batteries, Fairphone is partnering with Action Aid to look into the feasibility of setting up a fair-trade cobalt scheme in some of the countries where it’s mined — a initiative that may take up to five years to come to fruition Link

“Our end goal is to have transparent, long-term relationships with suppliers to ensure good working conditions, environmental protection, and safe recycling practices,” writes CEO Bas van Abel. “There are many challenges to overcome, so we’re taking a realistic approach, one step at a time. Besides undertaking assessments of working conditions with their known limitations, we are in talks to create a worker welfare fund. The fund will bring together workers and management and give them a say in how to resolve issues revealed by the audits, for example working on issues of living conditions, wages, and education.” Link

Do you think you can influence bigger mobile phone companies? That’s the plan! Many of them are very interested in changing things, but it is very difficult for them. But if we introduce conflict-free tin to the market, then they can buy it too. Furthermore, they can learn from our experience and copy our methods of transparency and publicly discussing problems. We really have so much dialogue with our customers. our plan is to expand, but we’ll do so step-by-step Link

It may not be perfect yet, but the Fairphone is, at the very least, one big conversation starter Link

“In the long term, our ultimate goal is a completely recyclable phone made from human and environmentally-friendly materials, free from plastics and toxins.” link

“This is just the start. I don’t see an end.” And “And we have a long list of things we want to change.” (Ballester) Link


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