There is light at the end of this dark mining tunnel and manufacturing conveyer-belt.
Here’s to the first of many Fairphones!
Manufacturing in China – Apple have been in the news over the last year about manufacturing and employment practices in China. While Foxxconn does pay more than the average Chinese factory, the cramped conditions, 60+ hour weeks, riots and suicides do not justify Apple’s huge margins on their products. Combine this with tax evasion and the $145 billion in cash reserves, Apple could be true leaders in bringing change to the industry and live up to their marketing hype. Of course it is not just Apple. Samsung are probably worse but they are better at burying malpractice and bad news with exponentially faster product cycles and glossy advertising. What would you expect when the Samsung family consortium of 80 South Korean companies (who are now feuding) has almost as much control over the country than the government.
Mining in China – take several steps back in the supply-chain and look at where the Rare-Earth Minerals come from to manufacture the (roughly) 2 billion smartphones existing today. Currently China mines 90% of the worlds rare earth minerals (two-thirds of this in Inner Mongolia), but their environmental record is quite bad because extracting and processing the ore is very hazardous to people and the environment. The Chinese government have made efforts to reduce the ecological damage of rare-earth mining, including quotas and restricted exports, but this could be a strategy to drive-up prices and offset depleting reserves.
Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo – though it’s one of the the poorest countries in the world, their mines produce nearly half of the world’s tantalum, plus huge deposits of tin, tungsten, gold, and dozens of other minerals used in electronics. For 17 years, rival armies and militias have been fighting over these ‘conflict-minerals’, funding their wars by employing locals and kids to fight and mine minerals under horrifying conditions (including extortion, killing, rape, torture & abduction). Around half of Congo’s mines are controlled by rebels as gold is used to fund a local warlord, while illicit profits from tin, tungsten, and tantalum have dropped 65 percent since 2010. There have been efforts to turn the (blood) ‘red’ conflict-minerals into ‘green’ certified products, but this is relatively easy to circumvent and has been stifled by US lobbyists.
For a comprehensive 10 page report on the Congo, please read M. Dizolele’s (2012) testimony to US House of Representatives Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade
Raise Hope for Congo have compiled ranked list of electronics companies (plus their detailed responses) based on tracing & auditing their supply chains, pushing for some legislation and exercising leadership in industry-wide efforts. Apple, Microsoft, Motorola & Nokia score well. LG, Samsung & Sony lag behind while HTC have done next to nothing.
Thankfully there is already an alternative to buying another tainted device, and hopefully the aforementioned manufacturers that can really make lasting change will follow suit. Introducing the Fairphone:
FairPhone – is the only smartphone that uses mostly non-conflict minerals and actively works for alternatives by partnering with a number of NGO’s around the world to change mining and manufacturing standards. In joining initiatives in the DRC, Fairphone hope to focus on regional stability by formalising the mining sector and increasing employment for small-scale miners. The ethical aspects of the phone’s design, supply chain and after-sales service are well documented, but there is still a long way to go:
“Our next steps are to seek additional fair trading routes and build new relationships:
– We’re making progress on fairly mined cobalt in locations like the DRC and Zambia.
– We are working with a sustainable tin initiative in Banka, Indonesia through our friends at Friends of the Earth.
– We are very close to our goal of using Fairtrade certified gold in our smartphone. This would make us the first electronics company with certified Fairtrade gold in their products.
Unfortunately the device is only on a limited release in Europe, but the Specs are quite decent! Here’s a short round-up of the important ones.
||Android 4.2 (rootable)
||MTK6589 (quad-core) 1.2 Ghz
||16GB + 1GB (RAM)
||4.3 qHD (960×540 pixels) 256dpi
||8MP AF (stabilization + image sensor)
||2000mAh (Replaceable battery)
||Dual Sim, MicroSD, Good Sensors
||4G, NFC, screen tech?
If you’d like to know more about the Fairphone’s Progress, check out the FAQ.