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Fairphone 3, a more ethical, reliable and sustainable phone, is released

Too bad we can't buy it in North America.

That new iPhone 11 Pro looks really nice, but I have always wanted a Fairphone. They have just released the Fairphone 3, and there is no question; it's no iPhone 11. Samuel Gibbs of the Guardian calls it boxy and utilitarian. “There’s no two ways about it: the Fairphone 3 has a dated design. Big chunks of body at the top and bottom of the screen are reminiscent of smartphones from five years ago.” He is unimpressed with how it works.”General performance isn’t terrible, but it certainly isn’t fast, even compared with mid-range smartphones costing less.”

But he also notes that “The Fairphone 3 is a device full of compromises with one massive advantage: being ethical.”

Ifixit teardown pieces Ifixit/CC BY 4.0

There are two things to love about the Fairphone's ethics. The first is that you can fix it yourself incredibly easily. It is modular, so that you can separate the components and replace them as required, or even upgrade them. Our friends at iFixit gave it a ten out of ten for repairability; they haven't finished their iPhone 11 teardown yet but the XS got six.

Key components like the battery and screen have been prioritized in the design and are accessible either without tools or just a regular Phillips screwdriver….Replacement guides and spare parts are available via the manufacturer's website.

In fact when you look at the website, you can buy every component in the phone separately, because they say “The most sustainable phone is the one you already own.”

But they also try and source every material to ensure that it is fair, and try to avoid conflict minerals.

Gold is one of the four conflict minerals identified by the Dodd-Frank Act. This means that gold has been known to finance rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Because tiny amounts of gold are extremely valuable, this mineral is also very prone to smuggling. Even outside of conflict and high-risk regions, gold mining poses a wide variety of social and environmental challenges, such as land disputes, sub-standard wages, unsafe working conditions, child labor and mercury pollution.

Fairphone pays a premium to buy FairTrade gold that unfortunately gets mixed in with other gold during processing, but they are working on improving it with the Fairphone 3:

For the Fairphone 3, we currently have three suppliers sourcing our Fairtrade gold through the SGE [Shanghai Gold Exchange]. Previously, we have bought an average of 100 grams of Fairtrade gold per year, but our new, scalable approach means that we now aim to grow that amount to one kilogram of Fairtrade gold per year (in fact, we have already bought 500g in the first half of 2019). And with this improved scalable model, it also becomes much easier for other industry players to source Fairtrade gold as well.

So why won't they sell me a Fairphone?

In their support section, they say “we want to stay independent and ensure that we can properly scale up our operations, customer support, and repair services to successfully support our customers in more geographies, which is why we’re waiting to start sales outside of Europe.” They do say that “we are researching the market and logistic possibilities to sell outside of Europe,” but alas, they were saying that when we reviewed the Fairphone 2.

It's a shame; I suspect that there are a lot of people like me who would go for an ethical phone that they can look at while they drink their FairTrade coffee. It would be the right thing to do. Last words to CEO Eva Gouwens:

What sets this phone apart is an idea that millions of people have turned into something incredibly powerful: a proof of concept for a future that’s kinder to humans and to the earth. A statement that a better world is possible. That change is in your hands.

Too bad we can't buy it in North America.