I read about Foxconn’s suicide nets in the news. I decided I didn’t want a phone produced in such a factory. I had a Moto Z Play Droid, actually an excellent modular phone with an amazing battery life (50+hrs, 80% charge in <1hr), great screen and snap on accessories including a 360 camera. I checked its box and it says it was assembled in China but not by whom. I did some Googling but couldn’t find any mention of which company assembled this phone. I have to assume it could have been assembled in a Foxconn plant or one with similarly bad working conditions, only less publicised due to not partnering with Apple.
So, after hearing about Fairphones, I tried to buy one online but this is not possible for someone living in Qatar. Thankfully I have a Dutch cousin who coincidentally also owns a Fairphone 1. Anyway, after trying to send her the money as Bitcoin (she didn’t have an address ) I wired some cash the old fashioned way and a couple of weeks later she had it. Next up was to ship the thing to Qatar… only for it to be stopped in Germany presumably before it was put on a plane because they didn’t like it having a battery inside. The DHL tracking system gave no information about this fact. I enquired after a couple of weeks and Qatar Post had no information. I decided to wait. After 2 months I had almost given up (postal systems in the Gulf are known for being awful, they often lose things). I made one last enquiry though and found it got stopped in German customs and they promptly returned it to the sender.
Expats often have to do ‘visa runs’. This is usually a weekend flight overseas to renew a work visa. It just so happened that I had one coming up exactly around the time the phone was sent back to her. So, yes, of course I decided to make my next visa run a 7hr flight to Holland instead of Kuwait or Muscat. Why not, welcome to life as a well paid, bored expat in a small dry country I could have put the money towards a ridiculous Swiss watch but instead I chose a Fairphone as a status symbol
Slight complication though, she wasn’t living at her apartment at the time, and the person renting (who just so happened to work for Dutch Post!!!) had collected the phone for me and I had planned to visit him at work to get it after landing. Another complication: due to lack of sleep and a certain Qatar airways flight attendant I missed my flight and had to go to Brussels instead then get the train north (flight attendants can also be useful when they work these things out for you)… which meant he would already have finished work and left by the time my train got to The Hague from Brussels.
We both, however, happened to be going to Groningen train station that night as I was visiting my cousin later, northeast of The Hague near Winschoten. So, thanks to Whatsapp, I skipped The Hague, changed trains in Rotterdam and waited for him to make a plan. Soon enough, I got a message from him saying he dropped the package off to a complete stranger, a guy running the bike shop at the Groningen train station. He sent me a photo of him, and a couple of hours later I dropped in and simply said “I’m here to pick up a phone.” He went and got what seemed like a very small package after all of this from his office. Finally I had the phone and got the next train to Winschoten.
Yes, this is all a true story. Thanks to a Dutch Post employee (whom I never actually met in person) working overtime, who just happened to be going to a train station along the same route as me, and a random bike shop dude (whose name I never got) I now had my phone.
This is the level of determination that a story about manufacturing done right will produce. Plus, I admittedly had some sort of perverted curiosity to see just how much effort I would have to expend to get out of this world, in 2018, a damned phone that would not leave me with a guilty conscience.
Turns out, for an expat living in Qatar, it is a hell of a lot of effort, time and money although I contributed somewhat with my own mistakes
So now that I had my hot little hands on this Fairphone 2 with its bright blue back:
- The rear camera didn’t work. I fixed this only today by dissembling it, removing the 3 philips 0 size screws holding the camera in, blowing on the connector pins, and screwing it back in. That simple. Such a relief to finally have a fully working phone after a month of ownership.
- The thing keeps rebooting, yes even after a software update. We have 4G here and I’ve heard it is related to this - the office tower I work in has poor reception and can fail back to the Edge network, possibly it’s caused by this. I found, though, that it often reboots repeatedly regardless of network. I wondered if it was because of lack of memory, having too many apps open at once etc.
- It has terrible battery life. It reminds me of the old Samsung Note Edge I had which would die after half a day. I come from a place of privilege being a Moto Z Play Droid user in the past, but I think it’s fair to expect that I shouldn’t have to feel like I need to put it on battery saver mode as soon as I stop charging it. At least the Fairphone has a removable battery, but I don’t want to fly back to Holland just to get another one.
So overall, with the camera issue which had to be solved by me reassembling the phone, terrible battery life and the regular rebooting it is, to be honest, kind of a crappy phone. It behaves like a phone from 8 years ago that I’m trying to run the latest software on and it’s just being overwhelmed. This is just me speaking frankly and I mean no offense to the manufacturer. The only thing that has stopped me going back to the Moto is the story that Fairphone have told me. I would prefer to have a free conscience, regarding the matter of how my phone was made, than one which works extremely well.
This is a study of the world we have today. The Fairphone is a step backward in time, and style, but it is one I am willing to make as a vote in favour of accountability. It is interesting to see how much I have to sacrifice, indeed how less modern the world really is, if taking the basic ethic into account that:
- People should not be committing suicide in the factory where it’s assembled.
- The materials it’s made from should not come from a mine or factory which exploits its workers.
I hope that this story, and the money I spent on this phone (cost of the phone and my own personalised delivery method), mean something to the community and the company that produces it. I hope it shows how important it is to some people to bring transparency to supply chains. So much evil occurs in the darkness of these supply chains. Bring light to them, and a lot will change.
Fairphone could do to the world of manufacturing/supply chain transparency what Tesla has done to car manufacturing. Tesla will never overtake Ford, for example, but they have kicked most car manufacturers into action making electric cars. As a result, we now have the Chevrolet bolt, an accessible, useful electric car for the average citizen. Fairphone, through better marketing/shaming of other manufacturers, could do the same for supply chain transparency. You saw how hard it was for me to find out where exactly the Moto Z Play Droid was made.
Just like the nutritional information on food packaging, there needs to be a standard declaration of how, where, when, who and what went into making each product. It needs to all be in a global database which can be queried via a unique code on each product. Speaking of Bitcoin, there are a few supply chain blockchain projects which could do this (Digmus, Vechain, Walton - also Microsoft had a demo of such a blockchain for tracking the origin farm of strawberries). They’re probably bullshit, but at least the idea counts. I want to be able to put a unique product ID (serial number for example) in a database and get a complete, trustworthy record allowing me, ultimately, to judge whether the product in my hands was made in a way that I agree with.
Fairphone is trying, at least. The phone is terrible (although it is a cool gimmick being able to pull it apart in front of your friends) but the idea overcomes that, for now.