Fairphone 2 good vibrations with conflict-free tungsten

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Today we’ve got a new reason to celebrate: Conflict-free tungsten is now part of the Fairphone supply chain! With this achievement, Fairphone can finally announce that we set up traceable supply chains for all four internationally-recognized conflict minerals.

Responsible sourcing that supports local economies

After quite a long process, we can now say we have integrated conflict-free tungsten in our supply chain! This is the fourth conflict mineral we are addressing after integrating tin, tantalum and recently Fairtrade gold in the production of the Fairphone 2. While the mining sector is often known for social and environmental abuses, these four minerals have been singled out as being especially problematic. In some instances, mining and trading of these so-called “conflict minerals” have contributed to fund rebel groups and thus support conflict and other adverse impacts, including serious human rights abuses.

The journey of a conflict-free mineral into the Fairphone 2
That’s why, even before we started producing phones, Fairphone decided to focus on finding better, more responsibly mined sources of conflict minerals. And instead of turning away from conflict and high-risk areas like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the surrounding countries, we wanted to find a way to source traceable, conflict-free minerals directly from this region to support the economies of the communities most affected by conflict.

We wanted to find a way to source traceable, conflict-free minerals directly from this region to support the economies of the communities most affected by conflict.

By partnering with programs such as the Conflict Free Tin Initiative (CFTI) and Solutions for Hope, we began sourcing tin and tantalum from validated conflict-free mines in South Kivu and Katanga, DRC for the Fairphone 1. With the production of the Fairphone 2, we’ve turned our attention to the two remaining conflict minerals: gold and tungsten. At the beginning of this year, Fairphone became the first consumer electronics manufacturer to integrate Fairtrade gold into its supply chain. And from August onwards, as this conflict-free tungsten enters our supply chain, we have now successfully completed our quest to create a transparent supply chain for all four conflict minerals.

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Team member Laura Gerritsen observing the process of washing and preparing tungsten for transport to be refined.

Conflict-free tungsten in the Fairphone 2 from August

Our attempt to source conflict-free tungsten started two years ago when we were first introduced to Austrian tungsten smelter Wolfram Bergbau und Hütten AG (WBH). (You can read all about how we started working together in our blog post about supporting conflict free tungsten from Rwanda.) That was also the time when we made first contact with the Rwandan mine New Bugarama Mining Company.

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Tungsten is a heavy mineral, which makes it good as a counterweight in the phone’s vibration motor.
New Bugarama Mining Company is a semi-industrial mine located in the north of Rwanda. The mine employs between 700 and 1200 local miners (varying on demand) and is an important source of income for the community. Compared to the artisanal tin and tantalum mines in the DRC, the semi-industrial tungsten mine in Rwanda provide clear improvements in working conditions, especially in terms of health and safety. We visited the mine site again in March this year which allowed us to see the most recent developments with our own eyes, as you can read more about in our previous blog.

New Bugarama Mining Company is a semi-industrial mine located in the north of Rwanda. The mine employs between 700 and 1200 local miners (varying on demand) and is an important source of income for the community.

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Tagged bags of tungsten concentrate validated as conflict-free. Their next stop is refining at our smelter partner in Austria.
Since we published that update, we’ve been waiting for the final step in the process to integrate this tungsten into our supply chain: the necessary logistical arrangements and permits. Ironically, tungsten is an important material for the ammunitions industry. Part of securing the necessary permits included proving that we would not use the tungsten for those purposes. Now, with all of our permits approved and in place, the first shipments of conflict-free tungsten finished their journey into the vibration motor manufacturing process in China.

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The route of conflict-free tungsten from mine to Fairphone 2 manufacturer.
After leaving the mine, the tungsten concentrate travels to Wolfram Bergbau’s refining facilities in Austria. Here a mass balance model is applied, similar to the supply chain of tin and tantalum. For example, about 50% of the tungsten input comes from recycled sources (learn more about the mass balance model). Subsequently, the tungsten metal is shipped to China where it is first transformed into counterweights, after which they will be used in the vibration motor of the Fairphone 2. Based on our current production schedule, this source of tungsten will be present in our phones starting from August.

What can you do to support better sourcing?

By working with Wolfram Bergau and supporting the tungsten trade from Central Africa, we’re not only seeking to improve our own supply chain, we’re also trying to encourage a more general acceptance of material from the region. To create lasting change and make a significant impact in conflict-affected countries, a first step is to engage with these regions. We know we’re a small player in the industry, but we’re optimistic we can create a ripple effect for others to link to these initiatives. We welcome more (and bigger!) industry stakeholders on board.

To create lasting change in conflict-affected countries, a first step is to engage with these regions.

As a consumer, you can also play an essential role in changing sourcing practices. For example, you can learn more about where your products come from and request more information from the companies who make the things you buy. You can also support responsible sourcing by purchasing from organizations whose policies go above and beyond existing industry standards. Finally, if you decide to buy a Fairphone 2, you can rest assured that you’re supporting the conflict-free tungsten trade in Rwanda, plus a range of other projects that are bringing more fairness to the electronics industry.

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