Smartphones contain dozens of materials sourced from every corner of the globe – each with its own story and its own complex supply chain.
How your phone is made matters because these materials have both a social and an environmental impact. The electronics sector has a responsibility as well as the opportunity to address and catalyze social and environmental improvements throughout material chains. One material at a time, we’re working to incorporate fairer materials, including responsibly mined and recycled materials in our phones. We want to go straight to the source to make sure we’re creating positive change.
Everything that’s inside your phone has an impact on people and the planet. Mining the materials that make up our phones provides a livelihood for millions of people around the globe and is of great importance for developing economies.
In a perfect world, we would be truly circular – meeting our demand by using, reusing and recycling materials. However, at the moment, the demand outweighs the supply and a truly circular economy is still a distant goal. So, for some materials, we will need to depend on the mining sector for decades to come. From child labor and dangerous working conditions to pollution and resource depletion, extracting the necessary materials comes with serious consequences. However, when managed well, it can be sustainable and a significant motor for local development.
That’s why we focus on sustainable solutions for mining issues, as well as increasing the demand for and supply of recycled materials.
We want the materials in our phones to come from more sustainable sources that deliver social and environmental benefits. To achieve this, we’re tracking where our phone’s materials come from and then finding and creating demand for more responsibly-sourced materials.
In line with our Fair Sourcing Principles, instead of turning away from mines and countries where human rights and environmental risks are present, we engage and invest in improvements. For responsible mining, we will focus on artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM). Often operating outside the formal mining sector (and related regulations), these types of mines offer the most potential for directly improving the lives of miners and their families.
The ASM mining sector employs around 44 million people in the world, indirectly creating employment in auxiliary sectors of 40 million people and supporting an additional estimated 150-200 million people.
Besides that, more industry efforts are needed to scale the effective recycling of post-consumer waste and ensure more responsible recycling. We invest in and innovate models for post-consumer recycled materials and improve recyclability through our modular design.
In order to monitor our efforts to include sustainably sourced materials in our phone, we measure the percentage of 14 focus materials we’re sourcing sustainably.
While many of the materials in our phone have serious issues to consider, these 14 materials provide Fairphone with the most potential to make a significant impact and show the most urgent need for intervention. For each material, we’re working to source it from more responsible mining initiatives and/or setting realistic targets for increasing the amount of recycled material we use. It is important to note that we acknowledge that the 14 materials are contained in multiple components and that it is not realistic to have 100% of these materials sustainably sourced. We will focus on those components with a high average content of our focus materials to set a scalable example. For each of the materials, we compare the weight we’ve responsibly sourced to the total amount used in our phones.
Fairphone was the first electronics company to source gold from Fairtrade-certified artisanal mines. These mines have improved working conditions and receive a premium for the gold they produce. We integrated this gold into the Fairphone 3’s PCB supply chain.
To increase the supply of responsible gold, we’re also currently working with partners in the Great Lake Region in Africa to improve the working conditions at artisanal mine sites, prevent child labor, and create a transparent and traceable supply chain.
We co-founded the Fair Cobalt Alliance, an action platform focusing on improving the livelihoods and working conditions of artisanal cobalt miners and their communities in the DRC. This isn’t just about thought leadership – we’re an action-oriented group that drives impact by investing directly in building capacity and empowering the people working in the mines, as well as those living in the surrounding communities. We piloted the integration of Fair cobalt from the DRC in our Fairphone 3+ battery.
We’re also working with Closing the Loop to recycle cobalt from phone batteries collected in Africa.
In this series, we’ll be giving you a no-nonsense, straightforward introduction to everything you need to know about the materials in your phone and their impact.A good place to start
This alliance brings together major industry players who want to address some of the most pressing issues in the artisanal cobalt mining sectorLearn more
Truly positive impacts require commitments across the supply chain — from the ground up. That’s what we call fair sourcing.All the details
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