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88Nine Radio Milwaukee

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Technically Yours, Introducing Fairphone: Fair Trade Meets The Smart Phone

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You can find Fair Trade versions of some of your favorite things such as coffee, clothes, fruit, wine, and more. However, there is one area that eludes the concept and ideals of Fair Trade - electronics, especially smart phones.  You've probably heard stories about the iPhone and Apple's problems related to workers' conditions in making the popular device.  Also, there has been concerns of iPhone and other smart phones impact on the environment.  A new startup based in Amsterdam aims to change all of that with a new smartphone called Fairphone.

Fairphone: Buy a phone, start a movement from Fairphone on Vimeo.

The folks at Fairphone have developed a smart phone with a conscience.  There are several ways the Fairphone is socially and environmentally responsible.  Firstly, the phone is made out of of conflict-free tin and tantalum (used in the phone's capacitors). The tin comes from the mines in South Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the tantalus comes from the mines in conflict-free mines located in the northern part of the Katanga Province, DRC. Fairphone also joined initiatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo that promises that minerals they use in the phones don't fund illegal armed forces.  They also focus on a single region for minerals, which allows for increased employment of small-scale miners and contributes to the economic development and  regional stability. The video below is highlights of Fairphone's expedition to the Congo.

Nous Sommes FairPhone from Fairphone on Vimeo.

Worker Welfare is another aspect of what makes Fairphone a 'Fair Trade' smart phone. Fairphone's mission is to ensure that every worker involved in making the phone earns a fair wage with an additional goal to ensure safe working conditions and comply with environmental regulations. For their first phone, Fairphone created a fund to improve workers' wages and working conditions in their factory in China. They also open discussions between workers and their employees.

Besides worker's welfare and conflict-free materials, Fairphone is also dedicated to the full life cyle of electronics. They have developed E-Waste programs. 

For every Fairphone sold, €3 (around $4) goes to removing e-waste from Ghana. In September, a shipping container filled with 100,000 phones and batteries will head to Belgium to be safely recycled.

In the future, Fairphone aims to make new phones entirely from recycled materials. They are currently looking at sharing responsiblity with manufactures for recycling of their phone through lease contracts. Fairphone is also building partnerships with companies that collect used phones.

Next, Fairphone incorporates smart and 'responsible design' for their phones. The design fits in with their manifesto, which is "If you can’t open it, you don’t own it." Here are some of the ways they are applying 'responsible design'

- Batteries are removable & replaceable
- Dual SIM capability
- Minimal packaging
- Chargers & accessories are NOT included
- In discussions with developer communities to make Fairphone optimized for other open-source platforms

Future plans include incoporating more open-designe elements such as giving the user choice of Operating System (OS).

Okay, now what about the phone itself. The Fairphone is Android powered and has these features:

- Dragontrail glass: Ultra thin and light; super durable and scratch-resistant
- Mediatek 6589 chipset: Quad core CPU for faster processing and page loading
- 16 GB internal memory: For music, movies, apps, games and more
- qHD display: 4.3 inches of touch-screen goodness
- Dual front/ rear camera: 8 mp + 1.3 mp for photos and video calls
- Android OS (4.2 Jelly Bean): Special interface developed by Kwame Corporation (Also open!)

See the full specs here. Want one of these phones?  Unfortunately, the phone is only available in Europe. The price of the phone is 325 Euro (around $425), and even the company uses transparency in its pricing of the phone.

To start, we’re offering a transparent price breakdown, ensuring buyers understand what their purchase is supporting, improving working conditions and being honest about where the phone’s components come from.

What do you think of a "Fair Trade" smart phone? Would you buy if you could?