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Towards a Smartphone That’s Better for Everyone

Look around you, and just about everyone you see probably has a smartphone. And if those smartphone owners were aware of the sweatshop labor in dangerous conditions and minerals which finance arms-buying, conflict and bloodshed that go into the creation of their mobile device, they would probably feel queasy and repulsed.

So it’s a relief to know that a Dutch firm has developed Fairphone, a smartphone that has been as ethically sourced as possible. The device is about to be shipped in Europe at €325 (US$440) a piece. Its initial pre-order run of 5,000 was quickly purchased and was increased to 25,000 -- and these have all been snapped up too. Fairphones are expected to be available in the U.S. soon after.

Fairphone is transparent about its supply chain, focusing on decent wages and working conditions for the factory workers in China who assemble it and ensuring, as far as possible, that minerals such as tantalum and tin used in the phones (and other electronic devices) don't come from mines where profits fuel violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but from mines where workers are paid fairly.

The resulting Android phone boasts respectable technical specs and -- in a smart move -- sensible waste-reducing features that can save its owners money. It has a dual SIM card slot, allowing business and personal phones to be merged into one, reducing the number of devices in circulation. The phone is unlocked, has a replaceable battery, and is designed to be as easily repairable as possible, extending its life.

The idea of reducing the wasteful habit of throwing away a smartphone every year or two is spreading, with Motorola exploring devices with modular components that can be upgraded individually, instead of discarding the whole phone for a new one.

I look forward to more choices for smartphones -- and other electronic devices -- that are protect lives, living conditions and the environment, choices that everyone can take.

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Comment by Brian on January 12, 2014 at 1:26am

There's also the footprint (energy/mfr/distro/materials) of devices and infrastructure, a lot of which is hidden now that it's "in the cloud". I realize this discussion is more focused on the direct human impact; but certainly environmental impact is strongly related and it's interesting to look at the numbers, even though they have quite a spread depending on who does the study.

This article [1] among other things, claims that we now use 50% more energy transporting data than airplanes. It also has a pretty good survey of the different estimates/studies on the topic.


Comment by Daniel Leuck on January 11, 2014 at 10:53pm

Even if all they do is cause the big players to take a harder look at their supply chains, they will have made a significant difference.

Comment by Joseph Lui on January 10, 2014 at 5:29pm



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