Strong objection from Africa

Hello all –

Hope everyone enjoyed your holidays break. I did, while waiting for my FP2 and carelessly showed a friend of mine over coffee my nice-looking FP1. That friend happens to belong to a large software company with global presence. I suggested to him that his company should consider adopting FP2 since they also care a lot about fairness and equality. He took the idea and shared it among his colleagues. Then, he got this very strong objection from a colleague based in Africa. I’m sharing it in full but without the name of this African colleague:


The claims made by the website is very misleading for those not following very closely what is happening in the Congo. The fact that they can boldly say that they are sourcing mineral exports (tungsten) from Rwanda should worry buyers as they have been numerous UN reports implicating Rwanda and Uganda in the pilfering of Congo’s resources.

It is important to know that the so-called “conflict-free” minerals is a western propaganda which only has had little to no effect in stopping the conflict. The apparent effect is that this approach has increased violence in areas given the de-facto embargo on Congo’s minerals which has pushed local communities into mineral smuggling.

It is more of a commercial incentive to make global consumers of electronics device feel good about their purchase rather than addressing the fundamental problem that exists which is that Congo’s resources are being looted for the benefit of western consumers, mainly the weapon manufacturers. Did you know that there are Canadian mining companies operating in the Congo extracting gold for example and not subject to any scrutiny?

Another effect of this approach has been the removal of artisanal miners in areas rich of minerals and for giant mining corporation such as BANRO taking over lands with ridiculous profits up to 90% equity stake. Reading the page it says “In 1996, Banro acquired control of the Twangiza property, and during the following year, undertook a US $9 million exploration program.” What the page doesn’t say is that Congo (then Zaire) went to war in that time and that Banro acquired this land from rebel leaders. It also doesn’t say anything about how over a dozen people (some accounts says 22) were buried alive (page 181 - last bullet point) after being subjected to atrocities in the same area today where BANRO extract the gold. The real culprits not held accountable by this conflict-free approach are the mining corporations as detailed in the book “Imperial Canada Inc: Legal Haven of Choice for the World’s Mining Industries”.

I wish the people coming up with these approaches would ask the Congolese people rather than providing a solution to Congo’s problem without their input. I can expend more on this issue, but a few resources here and here can help.

You can purchase the phone from the website… but be clear that the claims made on the Congo are inaccurate, misleading and an outright equivocation.


As a fan of FP, I certainly found this to be upsetting. But this is someone who obviously knows a lot more about the issues than me. Even though I think he might be a bit too opinionated, I think it would be necessary for this community to know what he says and respond to it.

After all, he is still seeing FP as little more than a consumer product. But the essence of FP, as I understand it, is that it’s a social movement. A movement that works collectively and makes progress step by step, including responding to such sharp critiques.

What do you think?



It is disconcerting, indeed. I think it is very hard to get to the bottom of such conflicts and it will need continued efforts to find increasingly better (sustainable, fair etc.) ways for sourcing the required minerals. Therefore it is important to maintain as many communication channels as possible and receive reactions such as this one.

I have one objection though. I do not find anywhere on the Fairphone website (maybe I need to spend more time reading all the materials) where they claim they are using tungsten from Rwanda. I only found contributions saying that options are being explored… so a clear reference to which statement this message reacts would be great in order to keep communication transparent and to the point.


Thank you very much for sharing this.
It’s very informative and interesting and I’m really looking forward to Fairphone’s response.

I believe your friend’s African colleague has strong and righteous concerns about the conflict free approach and the way many western companies surely use this as a cover to continue exploiting Africa for their own interests(*), but I’m quite sure that Fairphone has no such interests and therefore don’t exploit Africa, but genuinely try to help.
Maybe they are not as helpful as they hope to be and maybe other companies they have to work together with still exploit Africa, but I’m sure that Fairphone will continue trying to make it better.

On Monday Fairphone is back in office and I’m sure @Douwe will find someone qualified to reply in the next days.

(*) As by the way it happens with anything that is ethical and in demand. You find organic food in every big supermarket and it’s always just as organic as necessary to call it that, so the supermarket won’t loose customers to organic markets that really place value on organic products. Same goes for vegan, carbon-neutral, eco responsible investments, hybrid cars, solar energy, …
If you really want to make a change you can’t buy such products from big evil companies but from independent companies that you trust. And I don’t mean trust to make everything right, but to have the right interests in mind and continue making things better!


I think that this discussion is one of the more interesting reading of the forum… And I hope that could become a debate


Wow, that is definitely an interesting subject, thanks for sharing!

I just read one of the sources he referred to, the article in the Washington post, where it said among other things that exploitation doesn’t only come from war-engaged groups but nowadays also from big multinational companies whose minerals are certified as “conflict-free”.

And this quote from the same article seems to hit the nail on the head:

"As long as Congo lacks a government able to translate the country’s
mineral and gold wealth into prosperity for its people by the taxing and
regulation of multinational “legal” mining, all gold has the potential
to be conflict gold in the region."

Would be interesting to know which companies Fairphone is cooperating with to obtain the minerals. Or is that known and I just didn’t see it?

And then of course the question how it could be done better, because I still think that the FP idea is going into the right direction with the aim for longevity and at least the attempt to use minerals from the right sources!


It is in this blog post: Supporting fairer mineral initiatives with the Fairphone 2


Thank you! It is true that this post reads like they moved forward with these plans.

@JackHK, thank you very much for sharing. Is there any chance asking the African colleague of your friend what he thinks Fairphone should do differently? Or whom they should contact in his opinion?

So I would like to ask for this input. I think the forum is also a good place for suggestions how to do things better from an African point of view.


The blog post, @Zebrafax posted, is a very interesting read and I read it with even more interest, when it was published, because Fairphone will be working together with the Austrian company Wolfram Bergbau.

Here is a quote from the blog post:

The blog post talks about exporting and sourcing tungsten from Rwanda.But does that also mean, that Wolfram Bergbau will be mining from Congo / run their own mine?

Maybe @Douwe or even Laura Gerritsen, the author of the blog post, can elaborate.

@JackHK: Yeah, why not invite him/her to the discussion here on the forum? You can use the “Invite”-button on the bottom of the page. :slight_smile:


This blog post: Research trip: Visiting tin, tantalum and tungsten mines is very interesting too as are the other ones about mining.
I don’t see any hint that fairphone uses tungsten from Congo that comes via Rwanda into the phones. They tell about mines in Congo and about mines in Rwanda.
@anon14889930 and @anon2751513, help!

I don’t know about the specifics of the Rwanda/Congo issue, but to make a more general point: I see the mining/resource extraction aspects of Fairphone as a way of opening up debate and demonstrating proof-of-concept ideas about alternative ways of doing things. Fairphone is not, and cannot be, a ‘solution’ to the negative aspects of resource extraction - to imagine it to be so is to misunderstand the problem.

Take the comment:

Now, it’s certainly true that the notion of (for example) ‘conflict minerals’ vs ‘non-conflict minerals’ is a gross simplification. Resource extraction and conflicts interact in complex ways, and what happens in one place (e.g. large-scale mining as driver of conflict) may play out very differently elsewhere. Similarly, the binary of ‘commercialised’ vs ‘artisanal’ mining may also be misleading - identifying the scale (large or small) of the actor doesn’t necessarily mean we can predict the consequences.

But just because the issue is complicated and convoluted doesn’t mean there is no possibility of improving on the status quo. It is not constructive to describe attempts to engage with this issue as ‘western propaganda’, or imagine that the only possible motive for doing so is to placate naive Western consciences. The only outcome of that line of thinking is a kind of cynical, nihilistic apathy.

Instead, I think we need to accept that there is no simple way of resolving these issues, but that there is a value in putting them in the spotlight and exploring both potential improvements in practice, as well as different ways of communicating these issues to the public/customers.


Sorry to be so blunt, but your African co-worker would rather use phones from a manufacturer that doesn’t give a dime about social issues?

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In each case a fairphone is fairer as an usually smartphone, if fairphone 2 ´ll get technical upgrades, so that you don´t have to buy so often a new phone to be up to date you live.
Furthermore I think that there isn´t a way to be as company like fairphone succesfully without being very unfair.
Only when the company continue growing up its influence ´ll increase really.
I think it´s impossible for a normal human to bring all his partner to play fairly and only trust and work for them. Fairphone is a statement to want to be someone making the world better than now and only that statement can bring the humans a hard-earned better world.
For all nice guys/woman I hope that statement stay alive for ever.

[quote=“Pete_Kingsley, post:11, topic:11696”]
It is not constructive to describe attempts to engage with this issue as ‘western propaganda’, or imagine that the only possible motive for doing so is to placate naive Western consciences.
[/quote]Or it might just be plain propaganda (not saying that it is). Of course, “conflict-free” is a big word and everything is complicated and two-sided if you look at it in detail. But then, there are people involved in this kind of business, who are not reluctant to kill people for profit - so they surely would not stop at lying to the representatives of the fairphone company, would they? In fact, it would be naive to assume that a little company like Fairphone could roll up the whole mining industry by just asking nicely. Now you say it would be cynical to stop here and continue to buy the usual stuff and I totally agree, but given the fact that I payed a lot more for this fairphone than a standard phone, I expect from the fairphone company to investigate beyond mere statements of their suppliers. The contact of the OP explicitly accuses Fairphone of greenwashing its supplies and this is quite serious. It would be good to see a thorough statement of FP on this.


I think these critical notes deserve a profound discussion. Of course, I believe FP tries to do the best it can, but what is the result in the field?

Smuggling on the Congolese-Rwandese border and the plundering of East-Congo are problems that have been known for a very long time. Personally, I would be surprised if FP didn’t think of the risk of smuggled minerals.
On the other hand, FP explicitly chose to buy non-conflict materials from conflict regions, to support local communities. This is a calculated risk, of course.

In blogposts, it is stated that minerals do come from DRC, This seems to be contradictory to the idea of looting. If they would claim the minerals are Rwandese, but are in fact smuggled from DRC, you could see this as looting. But that’s exactly the opposite of what FP claims…

Anyway, I do think there are many possible problems and in no way anyone would ever claim that FP minerals are all 100% conflict-free. These possible issues should be identified (preferably together with local people, indeed!) and solutions have to be found.
But I also believe this is exactly what FP will try to do. I see no reason why they would start from an awareness campaign on the topic of conflict minerals, to end up setting a first step and doing nothing more. This first step has been taken more or less, now it’s time to look at further steps!

Of course, we’re expecting a lot from a very small and very young organisation: producing good smartphones (and delivering them in time :wink: ), use as many conflict-free minerals as possible, improving working conditions all over the supply chain (from mining to assembly), providing a lot of clear, transparent and easy to understand information on all these topics, communicating with us through a lot of channels, like this forum, providing hardware and software support, opening up the OS, …
This is no excuse for them to do nothing, but a reminder to all of us to keep in mind that, if everyone wants FP to do more on the issue they think is most important, priorities will have to be chosen by FP. In delivering the FP2, they did this in delaying the delivery to keep better working standards, which I can only support. But I’m very well aware that next time “my” topic may not be the priority of FP… :slight_smile:


Hi BNT, I’ve spent several years researching issues related to conflict minerals, artisanal mining and relevant legislation in the EU and US on the topic, so while I also can’t provide any guarantees, I do have a little bit of background on the topic. Having said this, I wanted to provide a few responses to your post:

It would, indeed, but this isn’t quite what Fairphone is doing. Per the usual definitions, there are four conflict minerals (usually referred to as “3TG” - tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold). Afaik FP has not gotten too far with tungsten yet (see blog post here), but for the other three, they are working with established initiatives that were created specifically to mine and certify minerals that do not support the conflict in the DRC and Great Lakes Region (for tin and tantalum), or that are fair trade and also conflict-free (in the case of gold). These initiatives are “Scaling Up Mineral Trade” (formerly the Conflict Free Tin Initiative) for tin, “Solutions for Hope” for tantalum, and Fair Trade for gold.

Basically, FP is sourcing these resources from other, already existing organizations that have put in a lot of effort to ensure that the minerals are sourced without supporting the conflict in the DRC.* This means that a) FP is doing more than asking nicely and b) the actual work of ensuring the conflict-free status is done by initiatives specifically dedicated to this issue, not by FP themselves (who would never be able to do this in addition to everything else they do).

I am currently not aware of an initiative that is working on sourcing conflict-free tungsten, which is likely why, in combination with the Dodd-Frank Act, tungsten miners in the Great Lakes Region have mostly lost their livelihoods, because companies no longer dare to purchase tungsten from the region. This is part of what makes the conflict issue so complicated - avoiding conflict by purchasing minerals from other countries means robbing miners of their source of income. Obviously supporting conflicts isn’t good either, but it’s always a difficult balance and this is precisely why Fairphone is trying to stay in the region rather than sourcing minerals from other countries, where conflict wouldn’t be an issue to begin with.

As for the original accusation of the African coworker, I do not see Fairphone “boldly say(ing) that they are sourcing mineral exports (tungsten) from Rwanda”, but rather that they have visited two Rwandan mines to explore the possibility of sourcing conflict-free tungsten from there. If the tungsten comes from Rwandan mines, it can’t really be pilfered from the DRC. And while it’s not okay for Rwanda and Uganda to be pilfering resources from the DRC, it’s also problematic for Rwandan miners (who may not have anything to do with the conflict or pilfering but are simply trying to earn a living) not to be able to sell their tungsten anymore because everyone is afraid of supporting either the DRC conflict or the pilfering activities.

For a detailed review of the impacts of the Dodd Frank Act and CFTI/Solutions for Hope on the situation in the DRC, see this report here by the Enough Project. The Enough Project was one of the first and continues to be one of the most important advocates with regard to the DRC conflict and they spent extensive time interviewing people in the DRC over a four-month period to come to the conclusions in this particular report. If you read the report (or even just the Executive Summary at the beginning), you’ll notice that their overall conclusion is quite positive, but that they do not deny that there are still quite a few problems that have not yet been solved.

Have you read what Fairphone has published on their blog under the Mining category? I would argue that traveling to the DRC, Rwanda, and China (trip to the gold mine) is “investigating beyond mere statements of their suppliers”. And while it’s certainly true that problems remain, resource mining is an incredibly complex issue (conflict financing is just one of many problems associated with the sector) and no matter how hard we work on it, it is unlikely that it will be a completely clean and “unproblematic” sector any time in the next 2-3 decades. But if we don’t start somewhere, it will also never get better and so I think supporting a project that is trying very hard to source fairER, conflict freeER minerals is the best thing we can do right now. Regardless of the fact that the Fairphone isn’t 100% fair yet (or even still far away from that), their activities are creating more awareness for these issues and more pressure on large mainstream electronics companies to change their own practices. And perhaps most importantly: Fairphone is providing a proof-of-concept that it is possible to produce electronics using more ethically sourced minerals. This eliminates the ever-popular excuse of “our supply chains are very complex and changing them/making them more transparent is just not feasible.”

*Note that conflict-free and fair trade are two different issues. At the moment, based on the Dodd-Frank Act in the US, “conflict-free” is usually used to mean “not supporting the conflict in the DRC”. In the proposed conflict minerals legislation in the EU, “conflict-free” will likely mean not supporting conflicts in any country, so the definition is more general and not limited to the DRC and Great Lakes Region. But as mentioned,the EU legislation hasn’t been passed yet since the EU Parliament rejected the first draft it received, because it wanted a mandatory rather than voluntary rule. This, by the way, was an unexpected and significant victory in the fight for fairer minerals! More information on this issue can be found here.


Great post. Thanks for shining your light on the issue :slight_smile:

Thanks a lot, everyone, for your responses. I enjoyed reading all of them as I’m learning a lot, which is precisely what joining this FP movement should be about!

Following some of your suggestions, I’ve asked my friend if he can bring his African colleague into this discussion. Hopefully the answer will be yes, because that way I think I’ll be able to learn even more :smile:

BTW, the critiques from this African friend were directed at the FP page about mining. I removed the hyperlink because I was only allowed to include 5 links in one post here. But I’ve also doublechecked and no where has FP claimed to buy Congolese Tungsten from Rwanda, which is different from buying minerals from legitimate Rwandan mines. So, this African colleague might have read things too quickly. At least that’s my take at this moment, although I completely agree with the point that there should be more African voices on these critical and complex issues facing FP – which is, again, why I’m working on getting this colleague onto this forum.

Thanks again everybody. Stay tuned.


That is very insightful, thanks for your informative post @emmy.

No, I didn’t have the time to research. And actually that’s the point. Your post is exactly the kind of thorough, but quickly accessible statement I was expecting from FP. Now I do not say they wouldn’t have or won’t come up with a similar statement themselves sooner or later (after all, it is still monday :wink: ), but you certainly did a nice PR job for them so far. Thanks!

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Hi all,

It is awesome to see the lively discussion here on this topic, this kind of debate and exchange is core to what Fairphone is about.

Since there is quite some interest and good questions on this topic, I will work out some more elaborate arguments about the why and how of Fairphone’s efforts on responsible mining and post them here tomorrow. I am not saying Fairphone knows all the answers and solutions, but hopefully these additional arguments can help and inspire you to continue the discussion with friends, colleagues and others.

In the meantime, an overview of blog-posts regarding tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold can be found here.

Thanks all!