While we at Mediolana have extensively documented how global society is in thrall to all things mobile and telephonic, as a company we find it hard to get excited by the actual processes that go into making smartphones: it is more than a little dispiriting to reflect on the fact that a device which helps define one’s life is more often than not enabled by murky resource wars and sub-slave labour.
However, recently this changed when our Creative Director & CSO – himself on the search for a new smartphone – stumbled across Fairphone, a social enterprise company headquartered in Amsterdam which produces self-styled ethical smartphones. Through respective agreements with suppliers and contractors in the Democratic Republic of Congo and China, Fairphone promises to deliver to consumers a handset free of conflict minerals and blood-stained factory walls. Fairphone have candidly stated that while it is not yet possible to produce a smartphone which is 100% ‘clean’, this is very much a key objective of the project.
In a world flooded with noble initiatives, Fairphone stands out for three key reasons:
- Spotting the Ethical Chasm. Fairphone have recognised that there is a vast ethical hole in the operations of most major smartphone manufacturers – not a small issue given the increasing global ubiquity of these devices. Acting on this observation clearly has the potential to strike a huge chord.
- Making it Sexy. Most social enterprises fail for a number of reasons, but chief amongst them is the lack of investment in design and branding. All too often, social enterprises rely on the push of goodwill while almost totally neglecting the pull of allure. Conversely, the Fairphone star logo is a genuinely good marque – rebellious for all the right reasons – which one can imagine actively wanting to be associated with.
- Making Small Plausible. While a surprising number of countries have their own successful smartphone brands – think Xiaomi in China, Casper in Turkey, Yotaphone of Russia – producing cutting-edge electronics is largely the preserve of corporate giants in service-dominated economies. But Fairphone has shown that a social enterprise in a smallish European territory can make its mark in a notoriously competitive sector: the tens of thousands of Fairphone 1.0 handsets have sold out, and 2.0 is in the pipeline.