In truth, there is very little information about Fairphone’s current legal structure in the best document I could find - here.
The statement that Fairphone is a social enterprise is made several times, but without elaboration.
As far as I am aware (and I was told this by a representative of Bethnal Green Ventures, who gave initial funding to Fairphone as participants in their accelerator program - which incidentally implies that BGV own 6% of Fairphone as those are their stated terms. I think that BGV are some sort of venture capitalists - albeit ones with a social motive - which throws a little cloud over Fairphone’s claim that they have not taken any VC money), the term ‘social entrepreneur’ or ‘social business’ has no legal definition or status. In other words, anyone can say that they run a social business.
What this means is that whether or not you consider that a business’ claim to be a ‘social business’ is based on trust. Do you trust them?
For me, the answer is easy - I trust the founders and current team at Fairphone a great deal. As an FP1 owner who has participated in this forum sporadically for the past 18 months, I consider that the team have followed through with their commitment to transparency, to their stated aims, to the development of a 'phone that can make a real difference.
That said - and said emphatically - I would like to have more detail on the legal company structure that Fairphone uses - which is presumably based in the dutch system. I’d like to know this to be able to make my own mind up about a question raised several times in this thread - the question of how vulnerable Fairphone is to some future boardroom coup / corprate take-over.
We have seen what happened to Ben&Jerrys, whose ethical approach is now used as window dressing by multinational Unilever (an Anglo-Dutch firm), and to Green&Blacks, an organic chocolate company now owned by multinational Mondelez - formerly Kraft Foods. It would be horrible to see Faiphone go that way, but as the OP points out, there appears to be little structural impediment to that as a future possibility (emphasising once again my total trust in the motives and decisions of the current team).
While I am doubtful of the wisdom of transforming into a co-op an organisation not founded as one (enormous sea-changes of corporate culture are often disastrous), I would welcome a move by Fairphone to register itself as a B-corp.
What is a B-corp? From their own website;
" B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee "
In other words, a social business can choose to register itself with the non-profit B-Corp lab, committing itself to meeting the B-corp ‘performance requirement’ (a series of questions, under the headings Governance, Workers, Community and Environment, on which a score is based - a minimum score of 80 is required for certification) , and in return being able to present itself as a ‘certified B-corp’. To put some specific meaning into the rather vague assertion of being a ‘social business’.
Anyone else know about B-corps? Is the certification good enough for Fairphone? Any other suggestions?