As you can probably guess from the name the ‘Fairphone’ is a smartphone that aims to be ‘fair’.
I will admit from the outset that there are still many problems with this phone. The actual hardware is largely outdated (as is the nature of the technology industry), the phone itself is very expensive, some of its ethical selling points are a little misleading and if the reviews are to be believed there are still a lot of bugs to be worked out.
However, the idea behind the design of this phone is undoubtedly great.
The smartphone industry has gotten a lot of attention for producing large amounts of electrical waste, using factories with poor working conditions and using materials from particularly dodgy sources (think slave labour and paramilitary funding).
This is where the ‘Fairphone’ steps in.
The ‘Fairphone’ is first of all modular. This has been attempted by other companies but soon dropped. The main advantage of having a modular phone is that if part of your phone breaks, it can be very easily fixed. Additionally, because they don’t want you to keep buying new phones and thus throwing away the old ones, replacing the parts is easy enough for you to do yourself so you don’t have to fork out for someone else to take your whole phone apart and put it back together. The replacement parts are also fairly cheap. The Fairphone is also designed to last and is said to be pretty robust, this of course is all aimed at reducing electrical waste.
The modular design isn’t just great for repairs, it also allows you to upgrade individual parts of the phone. The camera for example. The design of the Fairphone allows you to upgrade to a higher quality camera without ditching the phone as a whole (which lets face it is usually the main advantage of upgrading any smartphone).
It hasn’t only been designed to be environmentally fair but also socially fair. The metals used in the phone are sourced from ‘conflict free’ mines. This means that the mines must be seen to be free from armed groups (included official military groups and paramilitary groups) as well as child labour and harmful forms of labour for pregnant women.
The company also tries to ensure good working conditions and a fair wage for the people working in the factories producing the phones. They also believe in providing their customers with transparency about the supply chain, allowing us to see that a number of the factories they use are also used by other phone companies and many still do not provide what would be considered ‘good’ working conditions.
As I said at the beginning I think the ‘Fairphone’, in it’s current form is more of a great concept for Great Design. It’s a great example of a product that has been designed from top to bottom. The entire supply chain and life cycle of the product has been carefully considered and designed.
Ultimately I would love to see other phone manufacturers take a step in this direction, designing the entire supply chain and life cycle of their products. It is time that more companies and designers took responsibility for the injustices that exist within, and are supported by, their supply chain.