We no longer present the Dutch company Fairphone and its sustainable smartphone with its recycled plastics and modular components. It sources metals from outside the conflict zone and had so far identified eight priority materials for which it was keen to improve production conditions. She now announces to list 14 in total. Aluminum, cobalt, copper, gold, indium, lithium, magnesium, nickel, plastics, rare earths, silver, tin, tungsten and zinc are affected. Fairphone aims to make their supply chains more responsible.
Relationships of trust in the field
“Responsible for us, this means that people work in complete safety, earn fair income and that the materials used are used with a minimum of environmental footprint”, explains Monique Lempers, Impact Innovation Director at Fairphone. This requires identifying the key suppliers and then putting in place good practices via charters.
When we ask if Fairphone next performs checks in the field, the answer bursts. “Controlling sounds like risk management. However, the bad conditions of metal production are not a risk but a reality. We prefer to build relationships of trust, to have relays on the ground and to invest our money directly in the improvement of these mines. It would also make no sense to want to “control” our supply chains. They are too large and in perpetual motion », Monique Lempers tells us again.
Investing in artisanal and small-scale mines
Fairphone has chosen more specifically to focus on artisanal and small-scale mining. 44 million people would depend on it directly and nearly 200 million indirectly. For our interlocutor, “It is an opportunity to have a positive influence on the lives of millions of people who often live in the poorest regions “.
It is in this logic that the Alliance for Fair Trade Cobalt (FCA), which operates in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was born last year. A long-term job that will last five years and extend mine after mine. Fairphone took the initiative, but is supported by partners like Signify. They were joined by industry heavyweights, such as Glencore, a commodities trader.
No greenwashing in Dutch society, but a lot of pragmatism. She knows that there is no single solution to the social and environmental problems caused by the manufacture of smartphones. In addition to the efforts focused upstream on supply, it emphasizes the reuse and collection of products to extend their lifespan.
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The mirage of non-mining metals
But when we talk about the prospect of one day producing smartphones with non-mining metals from recycling, the reaction is doubtful.
“What we don’t want is recycling to be used as an excuse not to improve the mining supply chain. However, the recycling of tomorrow comes from the mine today ”, insists Monique Lempers.
Fairphone puts forward impressive projections showing a 500% increase in demand by 2025 for certain minerals such as lithium or cobalt that are used in batteries. This growth is driven not only by consumption but also by the energy transition. “ It is an illusion to rely on the recycling of metals, because we do not collect enough devices, that in the total there are few metals extracted, and that there will not be enough suppliers to do in the face of demand “, annoys the Impact Innovation director.
Fairphone’s hope is to act as a powerhouse for the entire electronics industry and to ensure that its best practices become the norm. Maybe one day it will be possible to achieve a more circular mode of supply. In the meantime, it is urgent to protect minors and the environment.