What’s this Fairphone all about?

What’s the most memorable video you’ve watched on facebook?

The funniest might be the Chewbacca Mum sat in her car, the spoof of how Christian music is made or maybe even the Winter PUNderland tour, but which video is most memorable for you? Have you watched anything that has impacted you beyond the next meme? Something you can’t forget? Amongst all the cat GIFs and hilarious vines, there is one video I saw a few years ago that I haven’t been able to forget. Not because it was funny, but because it asked me a question I’d never even thought about. As a result, it changed the way I thought about shopping ethically. I already knew about fairtrade bananas and coffee, I made an effort to buy my clothes at more ethical shops, but this video asked me a question I couldn’t forget:

What’s inside your phone and how did it get here?

Here I was, holding my HTC without any idea who put it together, what was inside it (like really inside – behind all the colour-coordinated apps) or how it impacted people living in poverty around the world. After watching the video I wanted to know if this new ‘fair phone’ was ‘an alternative’, then what was wrong with the phone in my hand, the one I was watching the video on?

I started doing some research to understand. Did you know there’s the same amount of gold in 41 mobile phones as there is in 1 tonne of gold ore?! Did you know there’s a whole variety of metals that make up a phone, many of which can come from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)? And did you know that the DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world? It has been at the centre of what’s been called ‘Africa’s world war’ for most of our lifetimes and violence continues to flare up again and again over issues like land tenure and control over the vast wealth of mineral resources – resources that make up our mobile phones.

The stuff in our phones comes from these same mines that people have fought over, where people in poverty have been taken advantage of. Here I was tweeting about justice from a phone built on the back of the opposite – injustice. I needed to respond. But how?

My first decision was to keep my current phone for as long as possible. To make the most out of what I had and stop funding an unethical phone industry by upgrading anytime soon. Years later, when my battery had deteriorated to a mere hour and a half of life, and when the screen was only partly responsive, I took the plunge and bought myself one of the phones I’d seen in that most memorable video. I bought myself a Fairphone 2.

I was nervous. Having tried many an ethical product, sometimes they’re just not as good at their job as an unethical alternative. Of course, sometimes they’re better but you never know until you try and a phone is a big investment! Having now used my Fairphone 2 for one year, here are my thoughts on what it’s like:

The highs

  1. It works! The phone uses an Android operating system and can support all the apps you could want. If you’re switching from an iPhone it might take a bit of adjustment, but any current Android users will find it an easy swap.
  2. It feels great! You’re supporting a movement for fair electronics and funding the hard work to find fairly traded minerals – which is a wonderful feeling.
  3. It can be repaired super easy! On top of the ethics, this phone is modular – meaning if one part breaks, you can just replace it. Cracked screen? Here’s a quick youtube demo of how to replace it. Want a better camera? Just slot an upgrade into the back of your phone. The modular design means there’s far less waste. It’s a win-win.
  4. You won’t notice much change. My phone works like a decent smartphone. It might not be as fancy as the iPhone X but it does everything I want a phone to do while doing all it can to make the industry fairer for the people who make them.

The slightly-less highs

  1. There are a few glitches. You know when your screen goes dark because you’re on a call? When I first got the phone, occasionally my screen wouldn’t light back up at the end of the call. I had to revert to old-school remove-the-battery methods. Thankfully after a couple of software upgrades, this seems to have been fixed.
  2. The camera isn’t as good as my old HTC one. Thankfully there’s an easy upgrade for that (although I’m resisting it for now – why create unnecessary waste?). My photos are still fine though, and I’ve been happy with the ones I’ve taken.
  3. My last negative point is: you don’t have one. That makes me sad. When you’ve had your current phone for as many years as possible and it eventually dies, come and join me and the Fairphone family!
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