If you were to dissect your smartphone, pick it apart with tiny screwdrivers and pliers, and scrutinize its innards like a sophmore biology student scrutinizes the guts of a disemboweled bullfrog, you’d inevitably discover some unsettling facts about the device. Take for example the gold in the circuits, the tantalum in the phone’s capacitor, or the tin that solders everything together. More often than not, big electronics manufacturers pay little attention to where these metals come from, and sometimes use conflict minerals from places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, fueling ongoing human rights abuses in the region.
And that’s only the beginning. Once the materials are mined by un(der)paid workers, they make their way into smelting plants and factories (often in Asian countries) that force employees to work long hours for low wages. Take the iPhone for example: the vast majority of Apple’s uber-popular iDevices are assembled at a factory in Taiwan called Foxconn. You may have heard about it before – the company makes the news periodically for its abysmal working conditions. About a year ago, the company made national news because it had to install anti-suicide nets on the sides of its buildings. Seriously, it was that bad – workers were taking their own lives just to escape. Kind of makes you want to toss your iPhone in a blender, doesn’t it?
But that’s just the problem. Short of going phoneless, there’s not much you can do as a consumer to combat these types of unjust business practices. If you buy a modern smartphone, chances are pretty good that, somewhere along the production process, workers weren’t treated fairly. But that’s all starting to change. A new startup called Fairphone is working to build a product befitting of such a name – one that puts human rights and ethical manufacturing ahead of profits.
It starts all the way down at the bottom of the supply chain. Fairphone has spent years building relationships with mines, and has taken steps to ensure that the workers who mine the materials work reasonable hours, have access to proper safety equipment, and are paid a living wage. Same goes for the factory workers who fabricate the parts and assemble the devices – the company has gone out of it’s way to put social values first and profits second. And they’re not stopping there either. The team is also working to reduce Fairphone’s impact on the environment. The first few generations of phones will be made with new parts, but over time they hope to produce a line of phones made entirely out of recycled material.
Now, it’s easy to assume that a phone made like this would either cost a fortune or simply be inferior to current smartphones from Samsung or Apple, but that’s definitely not the case. Despite the fact that they’ve striven for fairness is every aspect of the phone, they didn’t skimp on specs. Under it’s ethical hood, Fairphone boasts a quad-core 1.2Ghz MTK6589 processor, 16GB storage capacity + 1GB of RAM, a 2000mAh rechargeable battery, 4.3 inch screen made from scratch resistant Dragontail Glass, and runs a fully rootable Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) OS. It’s also GSM and CDMA compatible, so it’ll work on any carrier you choose.
The company has just started it’s first production run, so if you’re interested in supporting a socially-responsible business and sporting an ethically-manufactured phone, we highly recommend you check out Fairphone’s website to learn more.