FairPhone aimed at techheads with a conscience

January 24, 2013

FairPhone aimed at techheads with a conscienceA Dutch firm is working on a smartphone that follows the same production principles as FairTrade goods. The idea is to avoid contributing to damage caused to both people and the environment.

Mobile phone production chains can trace back to damage in two main areas. Firstly, the vast majority of phone batteries contain cobalt, a by-product of nickel and copper mining. That means its found mostly in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the latter of which is ravaged by civil war. There is at the very least a strong suspicion that not only is forced and child labor used to extract the metals, but the proceeds may be funding the military conflict.

Meanwhile many other metals used in phone production come fromChinawhere some companies use the cheap but damaging technique of simply pouring acid into wells to wash out the metals. That can poison local populations and make agriculture difficult or impossible.

Bas van Abel, the man behind the FairPhone, says companies need to put the effort in to track exactly where phone components originate — something many manufacturers suggest is impossible because of the sheer complexity of global supply chains. He says he’ll be able to provide full details of the manufacturing and supply process so that buyers can see the phones were produced in a responsible manner.

The original model is likely to run Android and allow root access; the company says it would like to use the new Firefox system but can’t at the moment because it doesn’t work it’s planned dual-SIM design. Full specifications aren’t yet available, but the claim is that it will be “a well designed, quality and functional smartphone at a competitive market price.”

An initial production run is planned for later this year with 5,000 handsets available for direct purchase by the worldwide public and another 1,000 going to Dutch phone company KPN for resale to customer. The plan is to sign more deals with phone service providers in 2014.

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