Building A Cell Phone That Doesn’t Kill People
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Bas van Abel leads an innovative electronics company. But, unlike Apple or Samsung, he’s not particularly interested in the latest voice activation or finger-swiping technology. No. He’s keener to see disruption in the back-end: in the mines producing minerals like tin and tantalum, the factories that make phones, and the systems that recycle them.
Controversy has dogged the phone supply chain recently. Apple has been criticized for troubles at Foxconn, its enormous Chinese supplier. Campaigners like Global Witness and the Enough Project have shed light on African mines that fund warlords, and employ child labor (see also here). And, there are continuing stories about how e-waste recycling puts distant workers at risk, and pollutes the environment.
Van Abel, who is based in Amsterdam, thinks there’s demand out there for something different. Later this year, his company will start selling a phone that looks and acts much like other products–but comes with greater safeguards. FairPhone, which is a social enterprise that recycles profit for social ends, is sourcing minerals through nonprofit initiatives like the Conflict Free Tin Initiative and Solutions For Hope.