An inspiring read on the story of Fairphone. A promising glimpse into what future business may look like?
The company started life as an advocacy group, initially aiming to raise awareness among Dutch consumers and telcos about the issue of conflict minerals in mobile devices and then subsequently about the sustainability of mobile supply chains as a whole.
… In January last year, it became a social enterprise, a startup with a handful of staff and the ambition to build a fairer phone — a device that put the social aspects of mobile hardware front and centre, that opened up the mobile supply chain, and that would be funded purely by the public.
… Almost a year ago, Fairphone opened up its crowdfunding appeal … it reached 10,000. And that’s when the fear kicked in.
… Nevertheless, Fairphone found a Chinese contract manufacturer … Fairphone signed a memorandum of understanding with the factory, agreeing if Fairphone managed to raise the money, the project would go forward.
… It took van Abel a month to work up the courage to press that button and send the money onto GuoHong. Only when he did, he found that a single push was not enough … and then finding out you cannot transfer more than €250,000 in one go.
… Due to the size of Fairphone’s production batches, it had to rely on other mobile makers placing similar orders to get its own device made.
… The factory management were watching the orders rack up along with Fairphone’s execs … For them it was impossible that people had paid for something we still had to produce, and that we were were taking the risk on the one hand, and that people were taking the risk on something that wasn’t there yet on the other.
… From the the beginning, the company had wanted to make sure worker wages were reasonable … The idea of a worker’s welfare fund was hatched — a scheme whereby Fairphone would stump up an extra $2.50 per device made at the factory on top of the normal production costs, and the factory would do the same … The $5 extra raised on each device ($2.50 from Fairphone and $2.50 from the factory) is put into a fund — a separate legal entity to the factory — with the workers then able to vote on how the money should be spent.
… For most phone makers, mobile operators are the keys to the market — offering discounts on hardware when consumers sign up to long term contracts, getting their sales teams to push devices to corporate customers, and putting marketing collateral in retail shops have always been understood parts of how manufacturers sell their devices.
… Earlier in 2014, the company did a small deal with KPN — the biggest mobile operator in Fairphone’s home market of the Netherlands … It’s also in talks with Deutsche Telekom, the German mobile giant with operators across Europe, as well as UK carrier Vodafone …
… Fairphone, however, decided to stick with supplies from the country, working with the Conflict Free Tin Initiative and Solutions for Hope. It did so knowing that sourcing its tantalum and tin from the DRC could mean using mines with poor working conditions or child labour … we’re going to join initiatives that put economic perspectives into the region, otherwise people will join the militia because they don’t have any work any more … Further on down the line, it hopes to expand the the amount of conflict free and fairly traded minerals that are included in the phone …
… Fairphone hopes to eventually allow other operating systems to be ported to the phone, and has been in talks with the likes of Mozilla and Ubuntu on the subject.
So far, Fairphone has taken over €7m, shipped over 25,000 phones, and is planning a second manufacturing run in 2014 that will see it put 35,000 more devices in consumers’ hands … “
I am looking forward to seeing what Fairphone produce in 2015, especially the ability to use mobile Ubuntu … maybe 2015 will be the year I “go smartphone”