Fairphone stepping up on fair lithium

Originally published at: Fairphone stepping up on fair lithium - Fairphone

Here at Fairphone we have joined and are members of several sustainable and ethical initiatives that address both social and environmental issues. From being B Corp certified to receiving a gold certification from Fairtrade, we always strive for excellence. More recently, we have become a member of IRMA (Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance) to establish fair supply chains. This is just another way in which we inspire the industry to source fairer materials that can have a positive impact on people and the planet. It is a key step in our fair sourcing journey, particularly for lithium. Having completed the research and supply chain mapping and engaged with our suppliers, let us share our progress.

What is IRMA?

IRMA is the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance and their vision is of a world where the mining industry respects human rights and aspirations of affected communities, provides safe, healthy and supportive workplaces, minimizes harm to the environment, and leaves positive legacies. With the increase of global demand for more responsible mining, IRMA offers a verification system for all mined materials, where the score is based on the social and environmental performance of mining sites.

More specifically, as a start, we are pushing for our supply chain to source lithium, which is used in our batteries, from mines that have been assessed through IRMA.

Lithium critical risks & opportunities for improvement

Lithium is one of our focus fair materials and its use, within the broader industry, is expected to grow exponentially in years to come. The first step of our journey was research: we assessed critical risks and opportunities for improvements in the Lithium supply chain to see where change can take place.

Lithium from the battery is rarely recovered or recycled, as its extraction is neither economically nor energy efficient. It is expensive to reclaim and in the end, very little is recovered, making lithium recycling virtually unheard of. As a result, it becomes just another disregarded material that ends up in the ever-growing global e-waste stream, adding to the pile of discarded electronic equipment. While ways to increase its recycling need to be explored.

In the meantime, with demand on the rise and recycling opportunities not yet available, mining remains a key supplier in the decades to come. The mining of lithium presents a negative impact on water resources, which severely impacts regions where water scarcity is already present. This not only affects humans, but biodiversity including animal life as well. This does not sit well with us and change needs to happen. On the positive side, there are some companies that recognize this impact and avoid water-intensive mining and are working toward improvements. More of these companies need to step up to the plate and lead the way in the ethical and responsible mining of materials.

With continued concerns of livelihoods and community development in and around mining, there is a clear and present opportunity for greater engagement with those communities. Development, which is often a multi-year effort, can only be driven in these regions through collaboration between the mining companies, communities and other critical stakeholders.

We are committed

IRMA is committed to transparency and continuous improvement in the mining sector – two aspects that are key in our Fair Sourcing Policy as well as our mission here at Fairphone. This membership enables us to reach out to our lithium suppliers in our supply chain and encourage them to be audited through IRMA. We are working with our battery supplier to integrate lithium from IRMA-assessed mines into our battery supply chain.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are more encouraged and emboldened every day to continue on our path to a fairer, more transparent and sustainable industry.


Too little, too late but better late than never :+1:

Now that there are legal requirements to mark nutritional values on packaged food can we not lobby for sustainability values to be marked on other products?

It could be done but it would be, and is, a con.

With consumption of nutrient there is a measurable amount of a specific substance in a defined weight of produce.

With sustainability the arguments are
a) What are you trying to sustain and
b) What is the resource.

In this situation the item to sustain is not the biological body but a phone, and other equipment that use varying amounts of lithium unlike humans who consume, on average, the same nutrients per Kg.

We could maybe estimate the overall amount of lithium that the whole of the human race would use in the next 100 years and work out a way to sustain such a demand but then we couldn’t label a phone as having a certain footprint in terms of lithium and it’s environmental irreversible damage.

An example is the Fairtrade gold it is put in the pot with all the other gold, like the system used in BCI (Better Cotton Initiative)

BCI : Mass-Balance is a term used to describe a supply chain methodology. Simply put, it means what comes out must balance with what went in. For example, if a retailer places an order for finished garments, like T-shirts, and requests one metric tonne of Better Cotton be associated with this order, a cotton farmer somewhere must produce one metric tonne of cotton to the Better Cotton Standard. This is then registered on BCI’s supply chain system, and credits for the order are passed through the supply chain for that same weight in cotton, from one factory to the next. What comes out is the equivalent amount of cotton that the farmer produced as Better Cotton, but it has been mixed in with conventional cotton in its journey from field to product.

I’m not saying this solves any problems but shows that the manufacturer has put effort into Fairtrade principles.

There is no such thing as sustainability in the wholistic material realm as something has to be consumed or destroyed to fashion another.

The best we can hope is that individuals support fairer trade so that we all suffer the consequences of our consumerism equal to out consumption ~ unlikely to happen for hundreds of year, probably never if you take other forms of life and existence into consideration.

But the Fairphone company are showing they care and presumably those who buy the Fairphone care about more that just the phone or the gold or the lithium or the poor support. :slight_smile:

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