From my perspective as a European customer back in 2013, the FP model seemed like a reasonable crack at the tough issues of fairness in wages, environment, and re-usability (longevity). As a do-it-yourself kind of person, I was excited to spend the next 5 years fixing, tinkering, upgrading and making good use of my FP, and feeling good that it was originally produced under better conditions than otherwise predominate in this industry.
This honeymoon ended when I moved to Cambodia.
Like many poorer countries, Cambodia is awash with mobile phone shops and their respective technicians - thereby employing mountains of people in the pursuit of maintaining open, affordable, and long-lasting phones. These are well-paying jobs too. If you can unlock, re-install, jailbreak, evaluate quality, and fix phones, you can make a reasonable salary, all while stretching the utility and lifespan of phones.
When I brought my like-new FP to one of these shopkeepers and explained what it was, he said he would give me $100… and this much only because it was a cool one-of-a-kind. The price wouldn’t be high, he said, because it would be a hard sell for his market. Yes, it was dual-SIM, bonus points there. And yes, it was unlocked but they can pretty much unlock any phone these days. But otherwise, standard cases don’t fit, replacement parts are hard to find, YouTube fix-it videos are not yet at a critical mass, and the battery was a unique type. Indeed, just this last point alone caused me 5 weeks of grief as I suffered the infamous “swollen battery” syndrome and had to negotiate hard to get a battery sent to Cambodia from Holland.
Even FP’s claim to software “openness” turned out to be hollow: he asked me why I was still using Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean), when he can pretty much upgrade any Samsung to at least 4.4 or sometimes 5.0. Upgrade-ability --> more apps are compatible --> longer relevance (especially for young gamers).
So, in a real-world test of FP’s relevance in poor countries (which is a test of its longevitiy, re-usability), FP fails pretty miserably. In fact, just by leaving Europe to live in a poor country, I put myself in a vulnerable position, unable to even get a new battery.
Yes, Fairphone wages and environmental conditions might be marginally better, but what about all those potentially lost wages for smartphone technicians in poor countries due to its (in practice) poor longevity? Is this just another Fairtrade product for rich people?