the ethical phone maker making business fair

With the pressures on society and the world thrown back into the spotlight by Covid-19, now is the time to readdress where and how we spend our money to do so in a way that is better for all, not only ourselves.

That means trying to buy as ethically and sustainably as possible, which for consumer technology covers both the materials pulled out of the ground and the way the products are made.

One company stands above all others as a pioneer of ethical electronics, the eponymous maker of the Fairphone 3 – the most ethical and repairable smartphone you can buy.

Related: Fairphone 3 review: the most ethical and repairable phone you can buy

To find out more, we talked to Fairphone’s design lead, Miquel Ballester, about why an ethical phone is needed, what the firm’s goals are and the progress made over the last seven years.

What is Fairphone?

“Founded in Amsterdam in 2013, Fairphone makes an ethical smartphone. It started with the very big goal of changing the industry from within. It creates scalable projects and aims to motivate the whole industry to take action on social and environmental issues in the electronics supply chain.”

What is the end goal of Fairphone?

“It wants to transform electronics into an industry where taking care of people and the planet is a natural part of doing business.”

Why is Fairphone needed?

“The constant push for the latest device means that 1.4bn mobile phones are sold worldwide every year. Most people keep their phones for just 2.7 years and only 20% of those discarded are recycled.

“There’s also a human cost. From the mines to the factories, the entire electronics supply chain is tainted by unsafe and inhumane working conditions, from long working hours to even child labour.”

How are you forcing change?

“By creating a smartphone ourselves, we can open up the supply chain, find out where the materials come from and can use commercial strategies to maximise our social impact at every stage.

“Four areas in which we are creating change: long-lasting design, fair materials, good working conditions and recycling. In each area, we are pioneering step-by-step change in our products and our own supply chain.”

What is the cost of being fair?

“For companies to be fair, they must truly want to do it. For Fairphone, it is a natural way of doing business. In 2019 a total of 230 workers in our Chinese factory received a bonus of up to €425 (£384) per person – one-and-a-half times the local monthly salary. This type of bonus was a first for our industry.

“If this approach were to be scaled up by all brands that partner with the factory, 100% of the factory employees would earn a living wage. But the real effort is making it possible.”

How much progress have you made?

“Almost 8,000 people directly benefited from Fairphone’s social, environmental and economic interventions in 2019.

“The number of phones returned for recycling under our takeback scheme has increased by more than 18 percentage points year on year to 23% for 2020 so far.

“An average of 45% of our eight focus materials (tin, tungsten, gold, copper, cobalt, neodymium, lithium and plastic) have been sustainably sourced in 2020, compared with 32.75% at the launch of Fairphone 3 and 25.37% for Fairphone 2.”

What’s next?

“In the next five years we will focus on further increasing our presence by shifting to a larger audience and on strengthening our position in the industry, in order to maximise our positive impact throughout the whole value chain. Two of our goals for 2020 are to fairly source 70% of the materials in our device and have 9,000 people who directly benefit from Fairphone’s social, environmental and economic interventions.”

What can individuals do?

“We encourage consumers to keep their phones for as long as possible – the most sustainable phone is the one you already have. The longer you keep your phone, the lower the carbon footprint. But if you are looking to buy a new phone, consider the Fairphone.”