After seeing Blood in the Mobile (2010), a Danish documentary on the exploitation of workers who mine minerals in conflict areas, Dutch designer-turned-entrepreneur Bas van Abel (Nijmegen, 1977) decided to establish Fairphone. Initially started as a campaign for social awareness, Van Abel’s goal for his enterprise is a sustainable smartphone production process that is both fairer and more transparent. The production of smartphones requires nearly forty—often expensive—minerals including tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. Fairphone supports initiatives that foster conflict-free mining of these minerals and metals. In addition, the company invests in improving conditions for workers in the Chinese factory that produces their phones.
Bas van Abel founded Fairphone – originally a campaign against conflict minerals and worker exploitation in the electronics industry which later became a company in 2013. The first Fairphone, produced with seed money gathered through crowdfunding, came to market in 2013. The Fairphone 2 has been available since December 2015. Compared with its predecessor, it has the significant advantage of being largely modular. The parts that tend to fail first, such as the screen and battery, are user-replaceable. Furthermore, if desired, the speaker, microphone and camera can potentiallybe exchanged for newer or better modules. And the phone has potential for additional future attachments including NFC chips, solar cells, and cordless chargers. The Fairphone is designed to last three to five years, because of its modularity. The ultimate goal is complete reuse of all the phone’s constituent minerals and metals.
The first Fairphone sold 60,000 units and there are hopes to sell 150,000 of the follow-up model. Almost 1.5 billion smartphones were sold globally in 2015, and clearly Fairphone wants to capture a significant share of the market. However, even in its niche, the company plays the outsized role of standard-bearer and advocate for change in the manufacture of smartphones.
Bas van Abel (Fairphone) is one of the 26 designers and studios that are selected for the group show Dream Out Loud – Designing for Tomorrow’s Demands. The exhibition can be visited from 26 August 2016 in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Read more about the exhibition or order tickets.