The Race to Build a Fairtrade Phone is On

The Race to Build a Fairtrade Phone is On

Cell phones are one of our most intimate possessions. According to the Atlantic, 26% of executives admit to sleeping with their smart phone, and 75% of Americans admit to using their cell phone while in the bathroom. Yeah – they are intimate possessions.

It’s also a very big industry. According to new data from the GSM Association (the world's leading body of mobile operators and device makers), mobile industry revenues are expected to rise to $1.9 trillion in 2015 as mobile connections surge to 9.1 billion.

It’s not surprising then that people are starting to talk about the slavery, exploitation, and pollution often part and parcel to the making of our phones.

This is best video I’ve watched on the topic:

Bandi Mbubi argues that your mobile phone, computer and game console have a bloody past — tied to tantalum mining, which funds the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

There is so much talk on the subject that I think the race to build the world’s first Fairtrade cell phone is officially on.

So the question is, who’s going to win the race? Currently, I’d say there are two contenders. Apple and Fairphone.

Fairphone’s mission is to bring a fair smartphone to the market – one made entirely of parts produced and utilized without harming individuals or the environment.

Apple, on the other hand has announced their intent to become the first tech company to join the Fair Labor Association (FLA) which would be an impressive first step.

I’ve got a feeling that Fairphone is going to be much more ambitious in their definition of what a fair phone is than Apple, but chances are the technology and the user experience will be mediocre. It’s not an easy task to bring your first-ever smart phone to market.

On the other hand, if Apple listened to Mbubi, they could launch the first Fairtrade phone relatively easily, or at least, a phone free from blatant conflict minerals.

I applaud Fairphone for pushing the envelope, but I personally hope Apple wins the race. They are so darn big, and so damn good – the cascading impact would be much larger. Plus, as the company matures, they are certainly going to need some compelling reasons not to be “hated” as most really big companies are.

October 16, 2012