“A phone that feels fair“

It is an object which we use almost every day. Most of us use it for our chatting and surfing the web, for music and taking photos. And still it is useful for calling people.

The smart phone has revolutionised our methods of communication to an incredible degree within the last 5-10 years. Being without one feels almost impossible as it seems to gives us a feeling of connectedness and provides access to informations around the clock. We might feel lost without it. Besides using it for our communication, it became an important tool for people all over the world to document important political and social revolutions, so that we far away from the scenery get an impression what it means to be inside of the storm. We are not anymore observer. We become witnesses.

A phone is not anymore just a highly developed device, it is the interface through which we experience our world.

In 2014 there were 7.2 billion mobile devices in existence. At the same time 7.19 billion humans were living on earth. It took our evolution around 14 billion years to create our human population but us only three decades to create the same amount of mobile devices.


Most of our electronic “trash” ends up in Africa. We need to clean up this situation. (photo owned by Fairphone)

These numbers are absolutely overwhelming and hard to imagine. But we have to go beyond the numbers and have to ask a more important question:  What are smart phones actually made of and who is involved in their production?

I have to admit that for a long time I never really thought about it and just took it all for granted.


Founder of Fairphone Bas van Abel – (photo owned by Fairphone)

The story of Fairphone started six years ago.  Bas van Abel, Peter van der Mark and Gerno Kwaks were creating a campaign to raise awareness for so called “conflict minerals”. Four important metals are derived from these minerals: columbite-tantalite, also known as coltan (from which tantalum is derived), cassiterite (tin), gold and wolframite (tungsten).


Conflict minerals, minded mainly in the eastern part of Democratic Republic Congo – (graphic owned by Fairphone)

More than 70% of the worlds tantalum production is flowing into electronic components. That is one main reason why mining is still a growing economic sector, as it is being driven by the worlds hunger for these minerals.

Conflict minerals are mined mainly in the eastern part of the Congo by local artisan miners, under conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses. The reasons for these inhuman conditions are many and varied: incompetence of the government to control its commands, conflicts related to the control over the the mines and the smuggling routes, and also simply the history of the country, which is impregnated with bloody conflicts and wars.

As these conflicts take place on different levels, there is no single solution to all of it. But you have to start somewhere, and that is what Fairphone does.

“If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.” Bas van Abel

open phone

Have you ever wondered how your phone is built? – (photo owned by Fairphone)

Fairphone is on the one side a highly developed smart phone which is competitive with any other phone from a bigger brand. But on the other side, which is significantly much more important, it is a socially driven enterprise, which aims to change our ethical standards regarding responsible and sustainable supply chains for our great tech products. But how do they do that?

Fairphone concentrates on 5 main projects through which a sustainable business is created.

  • Mining: integration of responsible minded minerals, mainly from the DRC (Democratic Republic Congo), increasing employment and working conditions in these regions for a higher economic and social stability
  • Design: creating a product which is easy to repair, which is an open source product, opened for your own developments
  • Manufacturing: support of a human friendly production process in the factories and giving the workers a voice for their rights and ideas
  • Lifecycle: encourage a longer use of phones and a more extensive recycling of used ones
  • Social Entrepreneurship: engagement with consumers by giving mini workshops and hosting discussions

 The aim of the company is to have an end to end opened product, from the mining in Africa to the consumer in Europe and in the end to connect us as humans. If you want to know more about their projects, please check out their web page.

The success of the last 5 years gives the team the endorsement to continue with their work. This year Fairphone will jump into the market a second time with the release of Fairphone2. With over 20.000 phones, which are already pre-ordered, the success of the Fairphone2 seems to be assured. The big new feature of this phone will be the implementation of 2 sim card slots. The use of dual SIM is already widely spread in Asia but here in Europe we are locked to the system the providers offer and that is far from ideal.

Fairphone2 wants to challenge that and wants to give us greater control over our devices and to make the use of multiple phones obsolete.

“An economy that connects us all but lost its human values.” Bas van Abel

Fairphone is such a valuable enterprise and movement as it does not just offer full product transparency but also because of its socially driven attitude to connect us all over the world and to raise our responsibility for the resources which mother earth provides us with.

go for it

Greetings from Kolwezi – (photo owned by Fairphone)

The future of our economies must be driven by human values and not market interests and Fairphone is showing us what we can do about it.

Fairphone has already sold until today over 60.000 phones. The goal for 2016 is 140.000.

I already know which phone I will buy next, and you?

All the photos, which I used for this blog post, are the property of Fairphone. I want to thank Fairphone for the generous sharing of their photos at Flickr.


2 thoughts on ““A phone that feels fair“

  1. vosbrad says:

    Great post! I am really happy that companies are starting to use good ethics to sell their wares and not just trying to avoid negative attention by being better than the lowest common denominator jerks. A lot of people do want to support companies that are sustainable and bring a better quality of life to those not as fortunate.
    The ability to repair the phone takes things one step further and I applaud them for that. I know that I have been frustrated more than once after being left with a non-functional electronic device due to some small issue!


  2. Kim Meyer says:

    Nice post Kathrin! Have to admit, I start being cynical the moment business models are talked about. Growth is never allowed to have a ceiling in this modern world of ours…But I’m all for protecting the environmental, and second hand is certainly a good way to get there! Hey, did you ever hear about SIMPA? It’s one example of a start-up renting solar power devices in 3rd world countries. People grappling with dire poverty have light! I saw an article about it in NatGeo. Can share if you like!


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