Our response to "This phone would be even fairer if it were made by a union member."

In response to: http://designaday.fairphone-open.com/an-even-fairer-phone/

Eric, thank you for starting this discussion and your case design; and thanks to everyone who has participated so far. We agree and recognize that the right to organize and collectively bargain is the most effective tool to realizing decent work. As you know, Fairphone is not just about a phone, it’s about a movement driving change step-by-step towards more ethical and more sustainable practices in the global electronics industry at large. If you’re just getting to know Fairphone, please look at our Fairphone at a Glance section on our website and fact sheet.

Fairphone decided not to operate in isolation or exclude countries, workers or communities that are more challenging. We support and create initiatives that can make a difference to them in, for example, countries like Congo, Ghana and China.

The biggest share of component manufacturers as well as final electronic product assemblers are located in China. We couldn’t agree more that it would be ideal to have a well-functioning union climate and that its protections would guarantee genuine collective bargaining and freedom of association. But in the absence of such a climate, we believe that increasing worker representation and voice is a step in the right direction.

For the first Fairphone, we worked with a production partner located in China where we first looked closely at existing worker representation mechanisms in that specific factory.  These factory employees are represented by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), but we are well aware that workers do not have a choice to associate with independent unions.

Together with the factory and other stakeholders including trade unions, academics and NGOs we developed a Worker Welfare Fund (WWF) to increase worker representation and voice. The WWF is an independent legal entity that manages the financial Fairphone premium (5 USD per Fairphone sold) that can be spent by the workforce on projects they find valuable. Key in this process has been the election of 18 worker representatives by and amongst the workforce (more in this video about the Worker Welfare Fund). These elected representatives consult with the workers and negotiate with the management, along with an accompanying training program. We are continuously developing the Worker Welfare Fund in order to achieve our goals for greater worker representation. We will report to our community and stakeholders as we learn more about the Fund’s results as an effective platform in this specific factory and context.

As a small social enterprise we face many challenges and we encourage and applaud any discussion and concrete ideas to make each generation of Fairphone fairer than the one before.

Bibi Bleekemolen
Fairphone Impact Development

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For those of you new to the discussion, yesterday afternoon there was a campaign by the UK-based LabourStart which included over 200 comments supporting the use of trade unions for workers assembling the Fairphone.

That campaign happened on our Design a Day tool: http://designaday.fairphone-open.com/an-even-fairer-phone/. The issue was brought up by suggesting that this message “This phone would be even fairer if it were made by union members” should be used on one of our 3D-printed cases.

I’m interested to hear everyone’s opinions!

The use of the word “fair” has proven to be ambiguous. Unfortunately, many people interpret it as “our phone is completely, absolutely, 100% fair”. For those who have a FP and follow the movement, it’s clear that this interpretation is wrong. The discussion should be far more nuanced and in-depth than whether or not FP is a fair phone (it’s not, and no one is claiming it is).

It is unfortunate that picking up and passing a one line slogan is much easier than to read and educate yourself about a subject. The discussion about unions is a valid and an important one, but by taking aim at FP (one of the few organizations who genuinely care about these things) and basically misinforming their followers, they aren’t accomplishing much.

Many of the people who posted at the design-a-day page talk about how using the term “fair” is a cheap marketing trick. It’s a sentiment I see a lot. It’s always a case of people not knowing what FP is about and what they’re doing, but once that is explained to them they often shift their opinion.

Maybe should’ve called it the NotFairAtAllPhone :wink:


I think that “spamming” (because that’s how I would qualify it) an event doesn’t really make any valid point. They only come across as spoiled children that need to make noise so that they get attention.

I honestly was put off by the whole display. It showed how short-sighted and by any means goal-oriented the whole thing was. As if one organization, just by clicking a button could instantly change work ethic in a country(ies) hundreds of miles away.

They are/were preaching to the wrong crowd. Something they would have known if they actually really followed the evolution of Fairphone. Something they could have discovered if they even just browsed through the site.

To me the design a day event was a nice moment of sharing ideas with like-minded people. Not a place to push someone’s agenda, noble as it may be. There’s a time, a place, and a proper and civilized way to discuss the issue.

Props to the Fairphone team for replying civilly and giving them the information that they can now peruse. Me personally, I wouldn’t have bothered.

DISCLAIMER: The views in this post are strictly my own and in no way represent the views of Fairphone and/or its affiliates.

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Do you remember the Failphone post card which came with the FP? :wink:

Thank you Joe for giving us some context.

Spamming does not seem to be an effective way of accomplishing anything. On the contrary, I support the way FairPhone acts.

This misguided attempt makes browsing the ideas painfully difficult. Could Fairphone staff remove all ideas related to that action? I’d say the union point has been heard, answered, and a related design has even been chosen on day 3. Thanks again.

I feel like I need to add this: These are my views and not that of my employer!

I work for a Trade Union as an Officer.

I do agree with the sentiment, I would prefer my phone to be made by a union member. That said, China is not the comparative safe haven of Europe. Worker rights are simply not the same and the context is not comparable. Fairphone could not simply storm into China and revamp the way the industry works - it’s not realistic to expect that. If Apple dictated such, I think we might be making a different point HOWEVER America is not a pro-union country so…

Anyway, I think as a marketing, awareness raising tool a case printed with “This phone would be even fairer if it were made by union members” could have a very positive impact (would make a bigger statement though if it was attached to an iPhone - and that’s not a statement I make very often :slight_smile: ), and it fits in with the ethos of Fairphone in trying to change the industry.

I don’t think this should be seen as a slap across Fairphone’s wrists, and I think it makes the statement that Fairphone agrees workers should be represented and have their rights respected. That’s my thoughts, but I am rather biased.

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I am a member of the Dutch union FNV-KIEM (the union for the creative Industries in the Netherlands. Als such I regularly receive email from LabourStart and specifically from Mr. Lee, urging me to sign some internet-petition against some injustice somewhere in the world. Usually I feel very unconfortable when I am called by Mr. Lee, because more and more, it seems, Mr Lee is absolutizing the Unions as the ‘absolute Good’.

In the case of his action against Fairphone, I am sorry to say, I feel that Mr. Lee is making me ashamed to be a member of a Union. Not only does he carry a strange cause, but also I see that hundreds of people copy the line he suggests without looking at the case at all.

I am afraid we have here one of the reasons why the Unions as such have lost the appeal to the new generations in the West.

As a matter of fact, I had never heard of Fairphone. So, the first thing I did was to peruse the Fairpone site for their policies in the matter of workers rights, and to took me very little time to find the document ‘made with Care’ (Social Assessment Program). I mentioned this document in the Thread that Mr. Lee had started, and not long after, Mr Lee responded that he had now read this document. He obviously did not seem to realize that the fact that he did not read this document before he started the the thread was in itself absurd. But more problematic; he did not seem to see that this document shows that this employer is well aware of the kind of demands that unions all over the world try to negotiate, and that the conditions that Fairphone offers are clearly based on these demands.

Now all of us who are remotely interested in the problems of unionizing in many countries in Asia know that western interventions in these issues can be highly counterproductive. Reading between the lines of ‘made with Care’ I can easily see that Fairphone is aware of the risks in this field. But Mr Lee chooses not to do so.

I now see a mechanism at work that I have learned to fear. I see how Mr. Lee has risen to some status in the (international) Union, and that this has given him some sort of power. One element of this power is, obviously, that he has access to the individual e-mail adresses of union-members. How this is organised, I have no idea, because normal members of the unions in Holland do not have that right. Now Mr. Lee is using this power to start action as a form of a personal whim. He does not, at first, put a question to us like: “I have the feeling that we have a problem here, should we take action, and if Yes, what kind of action?” No. He is at the top of the union’s pyramid, he finds a target, and he calls us to arms. And many union-members are accustomed to this top-down structure, and respond without thinking.

At the core of the problem is the shift from ‘good working conditions’ to ‘the union’. And the result of this shift that the fight for ‘the union’ is replacing the fight for ‘good conditions’.
Self-criticism is not a strong point of the Unions I am afraid…

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I agree the phone case could raise better awareness, what I don’t agree on is how the campaign was handled. It made it seem like Fairphone itself is responsible for the fact the the Guohong workers are not unionized, when in fact Fairphone has taken a very bold step in promoting a way that could lead to creation of unions and better conditions for workers in general. That was never once mentioned in the 200 plus comments which were mostly parroting each other over and over again. (much like a spoiled brat whining to get what it wants)

We all agree that Fairphone, the brand, isn’t 100% Fair. Fairphone itself has admitted this openly from the beginning, and they have done nothing but drive toward a fairer product with each iteration. But should the name be condemned the way it was in that design-a-day “campaign”?

I’ve seen a lot of smear tactics and smarmy one-liners in the time I’ve been online, and a lot of the comments in that thread were pretty nasty. Because the word “Fair” is in the name of a company, it’s ok to dump on them for something they have little to no control of?

I honestly wanted to answer some of the comments in that thread with “what phone do you own? Are the workers that assembled your phone unionized?” I’m sorry but that “campaign” was poorly implemented, hypocritical at best and was just downright insulting.

I’d like LabourStart to follow the same spamming process on an official Samsung board, or an iphone board… but I guess it’s easy to do something like this on the small guy, not so easy or ready to take the backlash from an established worldwide company whose practices definitely should be questioned. Oh wait, I guess their company names don’t include the word “Fair” in them, so yeh, they’re exempt from this kind of ridiculous “campaign”.

once again, I disclaim, The views in this post are strictly my own and in no way represent the views of Fairphone and/or its affiliates.

I do agree @Fro. I hadn’t known about it until I saw the post here today. I don’t think it is ‘fair’ to expect Fairphone to have been subjected to this. I think if it had been raised by an individual rather than a campaigning organisation, the argument would be a different one.

But as they say (generally) there isn’t such a thing as bad publicity, and I certainly don’t see it as a criticism of Fairphone itself. That said I haven’t read all the comments - as a policy I never read comments on articles etc because it’s the darkest place on the internet and full of people I don’t wish to talk with.

I’d also love to see big corporations being subjected to this kind of scrutiny.

@Marc_Jan_Trapman - I don’t think Labourstart can obtain your details, there is no central database of union members. You may have signed up to something as some point inadvertently maybe or after signing one of their petitions. If you like them on Facebook or anything then they may obtain more detail about you than you wish etc. I do agree that they could have done their research first

I applaud your candor and your very well-worded assessment of the whole “campaign” led against Fairphone.

Thank you.

By picking this as today’s design, FairPhone has shown it has an open attitude towards criticism and is willing to engage in discussions like these. I think it was a bold yet smart move to do this.

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@Jerry Agreed, I don’t think they could have handled it better. (but then again, we already know they specialize in bold and smart moves)


i support the cause, but i think LabourStart is only after marketing here.

Using a platform for discussing ideas in such a way is simply disrespectful of all the other users using it the way intended.

As carried out currently, I think is is a thoughtless campaign: It does not discuss anything about the Fairphone, the people commenting seem to have very little idea about what Fairphone is, does and what the challenges are for unions in China. A little bit of research would have shown that i propably would be a better idea

They could have used this forum or other ways to engage with Fairphone and the community and try to take part in finding ways to actually improve workers right’s like collective bargaining.

Instead they choose to spam the “ideas challenge” with useless ideas and very uninterested comments below almost every other idea.

The sad think is: The first idea of a case with the sentence was actually good. There is also no harm in discussing it right there in the comments. But then the spamming starts with several empty ideas and useless comments.

Does not make me think anything good about LabourStart. On the other hand, the response of fairphone was great: This phone would be even more fair if… is bold.

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@Marc_Jan_Trapman maybe the campaign has some good side effects after all. Welcome to the Fairphone forum and thanks for joining us here to share your opinion.

It might be true that there is “no bad press ;-)”.

I have to say, I do like the design that has come out of this… definitely one to get people talking :wink:


It is unfair to make allegations towards Eric Lee as you are doing. Comments like that he wants power and acts “as a form of personal whim” I ignore. But I will comment on to issues:

  1. How can LabourStart have so many e-mails? This is because one of the basic missions for LabourStart is to do e-mail campaigns against companies and governments breaching labour rights - the right to form trade unions, the right to make collective agreements, against child labour etc. LabourStart has done campaigns for several years, and has a list of more than 100.000 e-mail adresses of people who have signed up to campaigns and want information about new campaigns. If you don’t want to receive newsletters about campaigns and breaches of labour rights, it is easy to unsubscribe (one click).

  2. Allegation: "He does not, at first, put a question to us like: “I have the feeling that we have a problem here, should we take action, and if Yes, what kind of action?” No. He is at the top of the union’s pyramid, he finds a target, and he calls us to arms. And many union-members are accustomed to this top-down structure, and respond without thinking."
    LabourStart is not Eric Lee. He started it, and is still very important. But there are hundreds of volunteers around the world who do work for LabourStart. I am one of them, a Norwegian trade union guy. It would be ridicoulous to ask 100.000 people if LabourStart should do a campaign. But there is a network of active volunteers who jointly take a stand if we should do a campaign. It is not a personal matter of Eric Lee.

  3. The Fairphone engagement from LabourStart activists is not a campaign. Campaigns are about trade union rights. But it is natural for LabourStart acitivists to engage in this Fairphone issue. Therefore the call for engagement in the discussion. Personally I think the Fairphone idea is excellent, but to call a phone fair without including labour rights, would make the whole idea uninteresting and very strange for me.

Dear Ben. The LabourStart engagement is not meant to be spamming. And if it is perceived as spamming, I am sorry for that.
The Fairphone idea is excellent. To be fair should of course include respect for labour rights, otherwise it is meaingless.
LabourStart wants the Fairphone initiative to be more spread, also among trade unionists, who mostly haven’t heard of Fairphone. But then it would be important to also underline that fair include labour rights. Therefore Eric and his network of LabourStart activists (like me, a Norwegian trade union guy), decided to write about Fairphone in a mass mailing and encourage people to engage in discussions about Fairphone. If this was perceived as spam, I once again regret that. In fact, we love the idea.

I am a Norwegian union and LabourStart acitivst. The LabourStart engagement in the Fairphone discussion was not meant as spamming. On the contrary, in my view Fairphone is an excellent idea and should be more widespread also among trade union people. Through the LabourStart encouragement for engaging, thousands of new people now have heard about Fairphone, and hopefully will take part in the Fairphone “movement”. We are on the same side. But it is important to underline that the concept “fair” is meaningless if the workers are denied basic rights as the right to be members of a union of their own schoice, to make collective agreements, to take actions against exploitation etc etc.
Keep up the good work!

No one is claiming the FairPhone is a fair phone. Not me, not anyone on this forum, not FairPhone itself. Read my statement in my first post about the use and ambiguity of the term “fair”. Hopefully it clears up some things surrounding the use of the word “fair”.

Note that I’m not affiliated with FairPhone itself, so I can’t speak for the company. I only post my personal opinions and views.