The electronics industry, it seems, has a dirty little secret. Circuit boards, cameras, mobile phones and more all rely on conflict minerals — gold, tantalum, tin and tungsten that is mined with little regard for human rights in war-torn regions of Central Africa.
Danish filmmaker Frank Poulsen exposed the child labour and horrific conditions of a typical Congolese mine in his 2010 documentary Blood in the Mobile — I saw and wrote about it in 2012, but four years after the film was made the problem of conflict minerals is still not widely discussed.
There has at least been some progress… Intel announced at this year’s CES that their 2014 microprocessors will be conflict mineral-free. And in the mobile space, a company called Fairphone has shipped its first batch of ethical smartphones to early adopters. Someone on reddit posted photos of their device to r/Android; I thought them worthy of re-posting here.
The plain cardboard box that the Fairphone ships in clearly shows the countries involved in its production:
- Amsterdam, Netherlands – home of Fairphone’s HQ
- Portugal – where the software is developed
- China – where the Fairphone is assembled
- Democratic Republic of Congo – where conflict minerals are mined
The difference with Fairphone is that, according to the OP, every worker in China and the DRC was paid a fair wage. Fairphone is fairly transparent about its supply chain; though it’s not yet where the company wants it to be, they seem to be working hard to improve it.
Unlocked and Open
A complete list of hardware specs is available on the Fairphone website. Notable for me is a microSD slot, user-replaceable battery and support for dual SIMs. Only one 3G SIM is supported, though — the other has to be 2G. And no LTE support, obviously.
The Fairphone ships with its own modified version of Android. The good news is that you can break it apart and/or replace it as you see fit.
The custom Fairphone launcher shown above is available as a separate download on the Play Store; conversely, the Fairphone OS can be replaced with stock Android — which can only mean an unlocked bootloader on the device. This was confirmed to my satisfaction last summer via Fairphone’s Twitter account.
Fairphone is also active on XDA, which can only be a good thing…
So that’s Fairphone. The first batch of devices shipped only to Europe, but the second batch should be available to the Americas as well. If you’re interested you can get on the company’s mailing list and be notified in advance of the next production run.
Though it may be a bit underpowered Fairphone has a lot going for it — above all else a pledge from its makers to produce ethical devices. Wouldn’t it be great if more phone manufacturers got on board with this idea?