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 ), 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…
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.
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
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.
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 ), but you certainly did a nice PR job for them so far. Thanks!
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.
As far as i understand, Fairphone is actually trying to counteract this by buying minerals from congo.
Very interesting and worrisome, but do you or does your colleague think it is better not to make business in congo? I think it is important to provide alternatives.
Understandably, but he/she might not know exactly what Fairphone does. This is an emotional topic, so it might very well this person is a bit biased towards Fairphones goals.
To me, it seems best to let this person talk to Fairphone directly, so they can engage in a discussion to get something out of this valuable critique. Maybe you can provide a contact to @anon2751513/@anon90052001/@Douwe@JackHK?
I like this discussion! Keep going on. I think we are in a situation where it is important to at least try to change things. And I think all the work Fairphone does to raise awareness on some many issues related to current electronics production is as important as the solutions they are implementing.
I think this is a really interesting and enriching debate, so thank you @JackHK for sharing this.
The letter from the African colleague seems to me a bit excessive. It sounds like it has been written in a moment of anger, mixing several things that have little to do with FP. I totally agree that FP is not addressing Congo’s fundamental problems, but they’ve never claimed to do that, they’re just dealing with one big problem that, although it may not be “fundamental”, it is undoubtedly really important. Anyway, the letter provides some interesting resources and it seems to me that this guy has a good knowledge of DRC’s state of affairs. And most important, it raises up a couple of uncomfortable questions about Fairphone that some of us may have:
What does “conflict-free minerals” mean for the Fairphone company? Is it an initiative to help making Congolese people lives a little bit better that happens to be an exceptional marketing technique? Or is it an exceptional marketing technique that happens to make Congolese people lives a little bit better? The priority is essential if we expect to maintain this for a long time.
Has Fairphone company taken into account Congolese people’s point of view while designing its strategy for DRC? What feedback is FP receiving from Congo? How this initiative finally affected the miners?
Of course, it’s a great thing that FP people will join the discussion and address this questions and more. But I would like to make a request that goes beyond that and is really, really important in my opinion. Priorities are what differentiates a private company and a social movement. Social movements can have many goals. Private companies have one unique goal: profit. They can be more or less ethically concerned, but the main goal is to make as much profit as possible. Because of that, transparency is not a common feature of them. Revealing information can damage the company and also benefit others. But social and open organizations are not afraid of transparency. My request is to increase transparency on the mining issue from FP developers.
What information do we have now? Five blog posts about mining in the last 2 years, and a list of FP1 suppliers in the Reports section that does not even say a word about where the minerals come from. C’mon, people, could it be called transparency? Am I missing something? Are there any hidden secret resources that I’m not able to find on the web? If there are, please tell me.
One of the five blog posts (this one) talks about mineral traceability. This is an essential point in the “conflict-free” goal. Fairphone claims for this, but no information is given to us, the consumers, to verify it. In order to build a solid community that aims to make a better product, we need two things: transparency and participation. And the latter is not possible without the former. Because of that, I propose the following things:
Ask Fairphone administrators to publish a report with detailed and clear information about the sources of materials, and make it easily accessible through their website. This information should include what minerals are being imported from Great Lakes region, detailing quantity and mine of origin. Good traceability is very hard to achieve in that zone, because minerals from different origins get mixed at the moment of selling them, but it can be made with some degree of confidence. If Fairphone is delegating this task in any ONG or other organization, then it should be noticed on the report and provide a link to the information in the organization website.
Ask Fairphone administrators to publish an estimation of the profit fraction that finally goes to the mine workers. At this moment, we only have a section in the cost breakdown called “Materials” (230.30€, actually the biggest section) that is not an acceptable degree of detail, an of course is not a “cost breakdown”.
Ask Fairphone administrators to publish a full list of FP2 suppliers.
Maybe it seems that I’m being tough with this demands, but I really like Fairphone, and I am only doing this hoping that it helps to make it a little better. Also, I’d love to know what you all think about this, because for me is the key to solve this problem.
As mentioned yesterday, let me try to provide some additional arguments and background here on why and how Fairphone is focussing on more responsible sourcing of minerals. Thanks all who have already provided some valid and valuable comments here!
This forum topic started with the arguments brought up by the colleague of JackHK’s friend:
In the US, a law was developed - the Dodd Frank Act - which proscribes public listed companies to research the origin of the tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold (3TG) used in their supply chains and declare whether or not there is a chance these originate from the DRC or adjoining countries. As a result, many companies required their suppliers to stop sourcing from the region since it meant additional paperwork and (reputational) risks. To quote the New York Times article (2011) which the colleague of JackHK’s friend cites:
“Unfortunately, the Dodd-Frank law has had unintended and devastating consequences, as I saw firsthand on a trip to eastern Congo this summer. The law has brought about a de facto embargo on the minerals mined in the region, including tin, tungsten and the tantalum that is essential for making cellphones.The smelting companies that used to buy from eastern Congo have stopped. No one wants to be tarred with financing African warlords.” (The New York Times, 2011)
Because of this ‘ban’ on sourcing from the region and the negative consequences for local mineworkers, different initiatives were formed by companies, governments and ngo’s such as the Conflict-Free Tin Initiative (CFTI) and Solutions for Hope. Fairphone became member of these initiatives and supported sourcing tin and tantalum for Fairphone 1 from the DRC. These initiatives make use of the iTSCi traceability scheme, which labels and centrally coordinates the flow of minerals in the region and thereby providing companies a way to source from conflict-free validated mines in the DRC and adjoining countries. Whereas these initiatives kicked off partly because of the negative counter-effects from the Dodd Frank Act, the initiatives in itself also had unintended consequences.
In August 2015, an elaborate evaluation report was published by the Public Private Alliance (PPA) that reviews the effects of these sourcing initiatives in the ground. It is said that they have succeeded in their initial goal of establishing the means and motivation to re-open and responsibly source minerals from the DRC. However, there is also still much work to be done to ensure real social impact at the local level. The key take always mentioned in the evaluation report:
Demonstrated and communicated “proof of concept” for viability and value of sourcing tin and tantalum from the DRC
Provided a platform for global-local engagement
Demonstrated a business case for responsible sourcing of tin and tantalum
Highlighted misunderstandings and mismatched expectations
Demonstrated the importance of identification and transparent collection of baseline data
Offered examples of community partnership and beneficiation
Highlighted broader challenges relating to ASM and governance
One of the findings that we as Fairphone see as a clear recommendation going forward is that the actual ability of miners to negotiate and set prices is still very limited, for different reasons. This is not living up to expectations of the miners and creates tensions on the ground. For the future success of the project, this is one of the key issues that needs priority attention. For the Fairphone 2, we will continue to work with Scaling Up the Mineral Trade and Solutions for Hope to source tin and tantalum. We believe that it is essential to support initiatives like these, especially to demonstrate to the rest of the industry that more responsible sourcing is possible and very much needed in high-risk areas.
For gold, we have almost all arrangements in place to purchase Fairtrade gold and connect it to the supply chain of Fairphone 2. The last update on gold is here, including a video showing how we travel through the supply chain together with suppliers that want to improve their business practises.
Following up on Emmy:
We have planned a blog post with an update on tungsten coming soon! In short, we are exploring together with the Austrian smelter - who started trading again with the Rwandan tungsten mine that we visited in this video. We want to support this smelter, help stimulate demand for sourcing from the region and are working with our direct suppliers and sub-suppliers who can buy from this smelter for the vibration mechanisms in the Fairphone 2.
There were also some comments to Fairphone here on the amount of transparency and level of involvement of (local) stakeholders. We want to innovate with a creative and collaborative approach which is already quite different from what you see traditionally in the electronics industry. I fully agree there is much more work to be done on mapping and unravelling the supply chain of Fairphone 2, communicate it and engage deeper with the suppliers and sub-suppliers involved. But the only way possible for us and our small team is to do it is step-by-step and take the Fairphone community with us along the journey as much as possible, using blogs, video’s, etc. We are just getting started with Fairphone 2 and there is much more that we will discover and improve in the supply chain so I would encourage you to stay tuned!
I think Pete_Kingsley describes it very well: [quote=“Pete_Kingsley, post:11, topic:11696”]
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.
A special thanks to JackHK for starting this conversation and putting yourself out there to your friends and others. Being a “Fairphone ambassador” is not always easy ;). Or, in the words of the postcards that are being shipped together with the Fairphone 2: Word of mouth is our most powerful tool, and we consider all Fairphone owners to be our unofficial ambassadors. So make a statement, stand up for what you believe in and spread the word about fairer electronics. Thanks for being part of the movement!
p.s. For the real nerds like me, or just to get an idea of how complex the dynamics at the local level in the mining areas can be - almost 100 juicy university graduation pages on “the contribution of coltan companies in eastern D.R. Congo’s conflict” that I wrote in 2009 right before I joined Fairphone (which at the time wasn’t more than a campaigning idea and the Dodd Frank Act wasn’t implemented yet).
@Stefan Thank you for sharing that info, I wasn’t able to find it by myself. I think it’s not easy to find, though
And thank you very much @anon2751513 for providing a thorough explanation on this topic. It’s really nice to have someone from the Fairphone core team talking with us about this. I’m looking forward to see what improvements will Fairphone make on the transparency of its supply chain. Btw, I’ve taken a quick look at your Master Thesis and it’s an awesome work. It’s a good approach, very comprehensive and well documented. I’m really happy to have a new reading on this topic for the next days So it’s not all about videos and blog posts, there’s still a place for rigorous works.
I am very glad to see such a discussion taking place within the FP community. I will not dive into the complexity of the minerals, simply because I do not have the knowledge for it - though this discussion has been very instructive for people who knew nothing about conflict-free minerals like me.
However, one thing that came up in many different comments is that we shouldn’t be so harsh on FP because the company has a small team without the capacity, time and resources to investigate issues like conflict-free minerals as deeply as we would hope. The truth is that there is a straightforward solution to this: involving the FP community in the process.
This forum is great (I genuinely mean that) but it doesn’t go nearly far enough if the objective is to create a ‘social movement’. The FP community can and should be effectively involved in the investigative process, in the brainstorming process on how to reach FP’s stated goals and even in the decision-making process. This forum and this thread in particular are proof that there is a willingness by FP users to get actively involved in those processes. But as for now, FP doesn’t seem interested (there was already a beginning of conversation on this topic here but there was no official response from FP).
Creating formal mechanisms to involve the community is crucial because a) it would greatly multiply FP’s capacity to conduct research and come up with creative solutions and b) a company that gives a voice (beyond a mere forum) to its constituency is in itself more ethical.
I think that we do the best we can with the opportunities we have…
I don’t know how much of all this is true… I guess a lot as people outside a country can not really know all there is… and I’ll follow this discussion and follow links to be informed and learn…
I really think that in the society of today we can’t win… but we can try! and Fairphone is definitely an honest try to do better. Better is not best but it is something… and it’s more that every other phone does.
So maybe we can give ourselves some credit about trying and then try to do better and more next time… whenever and whatever this next time shoud be.
A lot of the information is pretty abstract, though. I do understand concepts like boycott vs controlled trading. Or the ability of miners to negotiate prices.
But if you ever get a chance on getting information about how for example iTSCi has changed the people’s live in a particular village or how the power of warlords is shrinking because they have less income - that would be very helpful for spreading the word.
My friend (who relayed the strong critique from his African colleague to me) was away for a ski trip and without connectivity for a few days. Now he’s back and saw the discussions here. He’s impressed and is now inviting his African colleague to this discussion. Still waiting for the response, and keeping my fingers crossed.
Meanwhile, my friend told me that, as someone who also spent more than a year working in Africa, he can see how complicated many things really are in the continent. Before going, he thought, perhaps like many of us, that things are much simpler. But after working and living there, he realized how Africans sometimes hold very different views, even totally opposite worldviews compared to the “normal” expectations according to global / western media. When these media talk about African issues, they often grossly oversimplify things…