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September 12, 2013 7:19 AM   Subscribe

Do you remember this? And this? A group of activist engineers based in Amsterdam do, and they decided to do something about it. The result is the world's first fair-trade, environmentally audited smart phone, the Fairphone.
posted by rhombus (26 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I still have a stupidphone, but if I decide I need a smarter one I will definitely buy one from a company like this.
posted by mareli at 7:26 AM on September 12, 2013


This may be nitpicking, but I don't see engineers on their team.
posted by dhoe at 7:29 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Remember this, this, and this?

...but I guess a handful of people can "do something about it" by spending money to hire a contract manufacturer to make a "fair" phone. :|
posted by frijole at 7:43 AM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is a great initiative, the issue of all the 'blood minerals' that goes into most technology needs to be more well known. Personally I only buy and use second hand tech - my laptop, tablet and phone are second hand. As are nearly all of the cables, chargers and peripherals I use. Due to the fast moving progress of products, a second hand phone from two years ago isn't necessarily much cheaper than a brand new top end one (e.g. see Nexus 4). But I still buy second hand - because of this.

But even buying second hand is contributing to the production of new devices, in a roundabout way, so I'd be much happier if fair trade/ethical devices like this became a mainstream option in every category.
posted by memebake at 7:43 AM on September 12, 2013


Not a bad looking phone, won't work on my network so I can't use it but this seems like a good thing.
posted by octothorpe at 8:25 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Looks like this isn't available for purchase in US. Probably illegal to make phones anywhere other than Chinese sweatshops here under the terms of China's preferred trading partner status. /hamburger

Neat idea. This would almost make me consider buying a smartphone.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:27 AM on September 12, 2013


Remember this, this, and this?

...but I guess a handful of people can "do something about it" by spending money to hire a contract manufacturer to make a "fair" phone. :|


The first link is a fluff piece about the CEO of Apple taking a factory tour with one line about the "This American Life" pieces by/about Daisy. (Daisy had a one-man show about labor conditions in China that were not based in fact. More information here.)

The second link is a fluff piece about the new Mac Pro, which has nothing to do with smartphones. The new Mac Pro will be assembled in America, presumably by Americans paid at least the minimum wage. The origin of its compenents, and the (un?)fair trade nature of the supply chain leading up to America, are not mentioned.

The third piece is Apple PR about how they've responded to criticism by increasing oversight and attempting to become a fairer employer, demonstrating beyond a doubt that increased pressure from the public leads to better behavior by corporations.

What were you trying to communicate with those links? Because your tone made it seem as though the links were demonstrating how a project like this is unnecessary, and/or no improvement over the status quo, and/or that Apple was already being maximally fair, but the actual content of the links doesn't communicate that at all.
posted by jsturgill at 8:28 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


... demonstrating beyond a doubt that increased pressure from the public leads to better behavior self-reported by corporations.

Call me a cynic...
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:42 AM on September 12, 2013


Here's an actual criticism of the project. From the site:

Our progress in sourcing conflict-free minerals is also directly impacting labor conditions. In South Kivu, DRC the miners’ income has more than doubled from 2 USD to between 4 and 6 USD per kilo. The increased cash flow has given local women an opportunity to sell products to miners and better support their families. Furthermore, working conditions are becoming safer as local cooperatives buy additional equipment for the miners and stabilize mineshafts with wooden piles (Conflict-Free Tin Initiative, 2013).

I read that as being carefully worded so as to not specificaly indicate how much tin (if any!) they are purchasing conflict-free from the DRC. It's a statement (our progress has improved things) followed by facts about conflict-free tin that may have no relation to the opening sentence.

Any direct information or hard facts about their supply chain, how much more they're paying their workers than other tech companies, etc?
posted by jsturgill at 8:45 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, there is some more information. From another page on the site:

We’ve joined the conflict-free tin initiative and the Solutions for Hope Project which certify the conflict-free status of the tin and coltan (tantalum) that goes into our smartphones – all the way from mines to end users.

So all of the tin and coltan are conflict free, and they are part of the tin initiative they mention on the other page.
posted by jsturgill at 8:49 AM on September 12, 2013


I think I've read everything on their site. There don't seem to be a lot of hard facts.

Is there a list of all of their suppliers (minerals on up) that indicates for each one...
I have an Android phone made by Samsung. My friend has an iPhone, and another has an LG Nexus. How does the fair phone compare to each of those? Where are the numbers?
posted by jsturgill at 9:01 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


jsturgill: What were you trying to communicate with those links? Because your tone made it seem as though the links were demonstrating how a project like this is unnecessary, and/or no improvement over the status quo, and/or that Apple was already being maximally fair, but the actual content of the links doesn't communicate that at all."

Or you could read the post as I did, in which case the tone indicated other corporations had already reacted to the scandal in laudable ways, and the suggestion that the issue had died out without impact wasn't true.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:03 AM on September 12, 2013


This may be nitpicking, but I don't see engineers on their team.

To be fair, I don't think its an engineering problem. Its a sourcing and standards-measuring problem. Actual production will be outsourced to a manufacturing partner who can meet the standards they set.

Android phones can be pretty much thrown together from existing components and then stuck in an injection moulded shell. Its the sourcing of the components that is tricky.
posted by memebake at 9:12 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or you could read the post as I did, in which case the tone indicated other corporations had already reacted to the scandal in laudable ways, and the suggestion that the issue had died out without impact wasn't true.

There is a tiny hint of a suggestion that maybe, since those engineers recall the uproar, that others don't. But it's not a substantial part of the post at all and is less even than subtext.

Putting together the scare quotes and the sadface emoticon, the comment I responded to seems like a super-duper, crystal clear criticism of the post. It mocks the idea of contracting a manufacturer to make a fair trade electronic device.
posted by jsturgill at 9:26 AM on September 12, 2013


This may be nitpicking, but I don't see engineers on their team.

Maybe that's the Research Assistant's job, to bring in unpaid interns to do the engineering.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:34 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the stuff about factories is all made up, I just opened my iPhone and found it's being powered by a soul gem.
posted by yoHighness at 9:53 AM on September 12, 2013


I think the site needs to make it eaaier to find out quite what a difference this ethical flag waving makes. Without the facts I feel manipulated.
posted by BenPens at 10:00 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a lot to find out about making an ethical supply chain, and in the end, it's a case of knocking enough of the negatives off a phone's social impact that it makes a net positive.

So there's no one page of facts that proves this is an ethical phone, any more than there are any facts that prove I'm a good person, but there are stories about the design tradeoffs that have been made to show that as far as possible it has a low impact on the less privileged. How a given person feels about putting their money into this supply chain still can't be taken for granted, but unlike other places, they have much more information at their hands to make the decision.
posted by ambrosen at 10:20 AM on September 12, 2013


Putting together the scare quotes and the sadface emoticon, the comment I responded to seems like a super-duper, crystal clear criticism of the post. It mocks the idea of contracting a manufacturer to make a fair trade electronic device.

No, it mocks a group of people who are acting like doing a little bit of work on a small production run will make a difference, when one of the biggest players in the industry has been actively working to address a lot of these problems for years now, and even getting real results.

Unfortunately for everyone who thinks there are simple answers to these problems, there's a lot more involved in being conscientious about your electronics than just attacking a fashionable brand.
posted by frijole at 10:56 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, it mocks a group of people who are acting like doing a little bit of work on a small production run will make a difference, when one of the biggest players in the industry has been actively working to address a lot of these problems for years now, and even getting real results.

=

mocking the idea of contracting a manufacturer to make a fair trade electronic device.
posted by jsturgill at 1:13 PM on September 12, 2013


Mike Daisey's name is spelled "Daisey," and the segment of his show which was adapted on This American Life -- while factually fucked in many of its particulars -- was indeed based on a trip to factories in Shenzhen and also on very substantial, correctly recounted research into third-party reports of labor conditions at Apple. I am more interested in the fact that child labor has been discovered in Apple's supply chain than in the fact that Daisey may not have met any child laborers personally, and more interested in the fact that people injured by n-hexane undeniably exist than the fact that Daisey falsely said he'd met one. The fact that there are labor unions working to improve conditions in Shenzhen is more interesting than the question of whether their members meet at Starbucks or not.

The original, much longer theatrical show was worth catching. It had a lot of material about Daisey's personal love for Apple and his wrestling with questions of consumer responsibility -- how to be an ethical consumer who's engaged with how things are made rather than simply criticizing a company and doing nothing (or falling into the subtler trap of feeling guilty and then doing nothing). I'm sorry he failed in his judgement, because it was an excellent piece on these points, and we could really use more popular writing on the subject.
posted by thesmallmachine at 1:34 PM on September 12, 2013


...I'm so tempted to abuse the edit window to cut my unnecessarily sharp remark about the spelling, but I won't. I'm sorry about it, though. The moment the post went up, I realized I'd made Metafilter a little bit worse right there.

Anyway, my point about Daisey is really that I learned a lot of things from the theatrical show that proved to be true and that radically changed my mind about things like the subject of the post here (i.e. while I would once have found it to be a pointless vanity project, I'm delighted to learn about it now, because while it's a small thing, it's something, and it makes the world a little more humane). I became slightly more capable of being moved, and so did many people. That's what art can do for us, even if it's deeply broken art that let a lot of people down.
posted by thesmallmachine at 1:53 PM on September 12, 2013


I'm also dubious about Apple's ability to control its supply chain, even after all this work. After all, we're still seeing things like this. But even assuming that they've made substantial progress and everyone is going into this in the right spirit, which I'm willing to do, I see no particular harm, and a lot of potential benefit, in an effort to figure out what an ethical supply chain would look like if made from the ground up. I'd like a humanely made phone to be a real option as soon as possible, and I'll buy one from whoever gets there first.
posted by thesmallmachine at 2:08 PM on September 12, 2013


DifferentLY. God, people. GOD.
posted by Decani at 3:34 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


jsturgill: "Putting together the scare quotes and the sadface emoticon, the comment I responded to seems like a super-duper, crystal clear criticism of the post. It mocks the idea of contracting a manufacturer to make a fair trade electronic device."

Just thinking outside the box here, throwing out ideas to see if any of them stick.... but maybe different people read different inferences into the text.

Naah. Crazy. Forget I mentioned it.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:38 AM on September 13, 2013


IAmBroom, frijole posted another comment to clarify, just in case you missed it, that s/he did indeed mean for his/her comment to be critical of the post, the product, and the entire concept of the project. The scare quotes in the original comment are not ambiguous. My response to frijole was to the plain, clear, and common meaning of his/her words, which really isn't debatable or ambiguous unless you're interpreting the comment from a strikingly different cultural and linguistic background.

Yes, frijole is also very happy with Apple's response to criticism on this subject. His follow-up comment also makes that clear. Way to make sure that didn't get missed. (Feel free to interpret my tone as sarcastic on that last sentence.)

Regardless. Two marketing fluff pieces of non-investigative reporting and a company-run PR resource do not make a strong argument for Apple being supergreat and responsible in this area, even if that's what frijole was primarily trying to communicate. Nor do they have anything to say about this particular product.
posted by jsturgill at 9:54 AM on September 13, 2013


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