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Our role as a social enterprise in the industry

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A post about a conference that our product guy, Miquel, recently attended in Rostock, Germany on “Responsible IT.”

As I write this post on the train from Rostock to Hamburg, my shirt is still wet from the a rainy yet wonderful day at the conference for Responsible IT Procurement in Rostock, Germany. In the grand scheme of IT, and specifically the mobile industry, it’s important for me to reflect on Fairphone’s position still as a small player. We’re just a startup, about eight people, who have somewhat naively set out to make a fair(er) phone – using best practices from partners and other stakeholders in the field. Since we’re still small, our role at the conference was to get into this fruitful discussion on more responsible IT.

I want to briefly tell you guys about the people I met at the conference, the valuable insights they shared with me, and my vision of the role of social enterprises in IT.

I gained a lot of insights from NGOs, public procurement officers, and other organizations like Niclas Rydell (TCO Development), Klaus-Peter Tiedtke (Federal Procurement Authority), and the fair computer mouse producer Nager-IT, just to name a few. These people educated me on a number of issues, for instance: the new criteria in smartphone certification; the challenges of the public sector in sourcing more responsible and the tools that can help local institutions to set the right criteria; and finally, sourcing, the origin of materials and social conditions in the supply chain of a computer mouse, from our friend, Susanne, from the Fair Mouse at Nager IT.

The role of social enterprises in IT

My talk drew mainly upon the role of social enterprises on building the path towards more responsible IT in comparison to the role of advocacy groups, corporations, the public sector and consumers. Social enterprises have the power of becoming a place for experimentation in their role intersecting the areas in which corporations and NGOs operate.

At Fairphone we take it #creative, #open, #together and #positive. We are not here to divide the industry but to add up, and to bring parties together from different fields.

We have a product that makes tangible the efforts of different organizations that help us, therefore it is a collaborative effort. Social enterprises “break down silos” and open up new landscapes. Like for example, not including the charger by default with your Fairphone, or facilitating the use of different operating systems. So far so good, and we humbly hope it becomes a reference for others.

Certification? Transparency?

Klaus-Peter Tiedtke, Federal Procurement AuthorityAlthough we recognize the excellent work being done by certification agencies in pushing the industry step-by-step to increased levels of fairness, we also see their limitations. We feel we have a different position as a social enterprise, because as an industry partner we can actually support certifications in demanding what is demandable in terms of what companies can achieve. Or, bear with me here, the difference between us and an agency issuing certifications is that they need to “dance” with the industry, making the criteria of their certification correspond to what is feasible at that point of time; they can not raise the bar too high for fear of alienating brands, but strict enough to get them moving to more responsible IT.

As Fairphone is both a mission and a product, it aims to achieve levels of transparency and responsibility that go much beyond the capabilities of what many stakeholders are doing today. Our vision of Fairness goes beyond sourcing and social conditions, but that you know, and you can read in our roadmap.

Fair Mouse Supply Chain

Check this picture above! Nager-IT has been working in mapping their supply chain. For us, The making of the phone helps us understand the system and change it where we can. Besides the good steps we have made, the world needs still quite some iterations of the fairphone to get to truly responsible IT and even then it will still be necessary to raise the bar higher and higher. And we don’t talk only about sourcing, we strive for levels of Fairness that include consumers and in general any actor involved in the current supply chain of phones. In fact, we are building a Source Map that will include all the information we have today, and we will invite stakeholders to complete this map even further. More to come over the summer!

While looking at the public debate through news and social networks, I did notice that the discussion about what is fair is alive and well. Our project is sometimes confused with “Fairtrade” and is promoted (by others) as being 100% fair. I am always a bit weary when I hear this, as we try to be consistent in our message that what we have set out to do is a HUGE task and that it will take time to get there. Our first product is the beginning, a step in the direction to our vision. But our goals and our drivers are what makes our story different.

Thanks to the whole organizing team of the conference and in particular to Martin and Alexis who were great hosts to me. See more about the hosting organization, Eine-Welt-Landesnetzwerk, here.

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