Are you Ethically Obliged to Purchase a Fairphone?

The Fairphone is advertised as follows: “We’ve created the world’s first ethical, modular smartphone. You shouldn’t have to choose between a great phone and a fair supply chain” ( “Fair” here is understood as “fair trade”: the phone began in the (more deontological) Netherlands as part of a campaign highlighting the role of “conflict minerals” (including tin, tantalum, and gold). These minerals are essential to the production of smartphones (as well as virtually all other electronics, including our computers, tablets, digital cameras, etc.). Western supply chains have sourced these minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo – and so they are loodstained by that country’s civil war. The campaign’s originators, Peter van der Mark and Bas van Abel, led a company that produced Fairphone 1 in 2013, and Fairphone 2 in 2015. Maja van der Velden characterizes “fair” here as including “a people-first approach, fair and conflict-free resources, the use of recycled materials, e-waste solutions across the supply chain, fair technical and design specifications, and transparent pricing”. This includes specific attention to “Good Working Conditions,” with a view toward improving “worker satisfaction and representation,” and helping to move “the electronics industry towards zero exposure of workers to toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process” ( In these directions, the Fairphone was the first to incorporate Fairtrade gold in its supply chain. And Fairphone has received Greenpeace’s highest grade for green electronics. In these ways, the Fairphone is a primary example of slow technology design.

Fairphones 2 and 3 are built out of modules. Should a particular component break, such as the screen or microphone – replacement modules can be ordered and installed quite easily. Ditto for modules that might be improved in subsequent development, such as the camera. This modular design thus extends the life of the phone by encouraging “the reuse and repair of our phones, researching electronics recycling options and reducing electronic waste worldwide”.

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