Operator group Vodafone will be flogging the Fairphone 3 to its European customers from next year.

As the name implies, the Fairphone aspires to be fairer than other phones. “Fairphone builds a deeper understanding between people and their products, driving conversations about what ‘fair’ really means,” explains the company’s website. Those conversations are apparently still ongoing as we could find no definition of the term on the site other than a regular insistence that it’s something everyone should be striving towards.

Nebulous platitudes aside, the substantial differentiator for Fairphones lies in their ecological credentials. There is an emphasis on renewable materials and sourcing, which presumably means the manufacture and distribution of a Fairphone somehow does less damage to the environment than that of regular phones. But this doesn’t seem to be enough for Fairphone, which has also adopted a broader social agenda. “It’s no secret: we’re out to change the world,” declares the website.

Without, for one second, questioning Vodafone’s commitment to fairness and that sort of thing, its newly-announced partnership with Fairphone does provide some rather convenient, off-the-shelf corporte virtue-signalling. Future Vodafone Group presentations will doubtless be replete with photos of happy, healthy, developing world, rare-earth metal miners and idyllic, unspoilt wildernesses.

“This partnership with Fairphone aligns with Vodafone’s purpose to improve the lives of 1 billion people while halving its environmental impact by 2025,” said the press release. “This commitment by Vodafone includes halving its carbon footprint and purchasing all electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and Vodafone has committed to reuse, resell or recycle 100% of its network waste and help customers extend the lives of the devices they already own.”

“At Vodafone, we’re working hard to build a digital future that works for everyone and this strategic partnership between Vodafone and Fairphone brings together our expertise as Europe’s leading and largest converged technology communications company with the recognised expert in sustainable smartphones,” said Vodafone Group Chief Commercial Operations & Strategy Officer Ahmed Essam.

“Fairphone is showing that there is a market for more ethical phones to inspire the rest of the industry to produce more ethically,” said Fairphone CEO, Eva Gouwens. “Working with a large operator such as Vodafone helps to bring sustainable electronics to the mainstream market and therefore this is one of the strongest signals we can send to the rest of the industry.”

Fairphone seems to have its messaging a bit confused. It’s hard to find fault with its eco aspirations, but conflating those with ill-defined, subjective concepts such as ethics and fairness is at best a distraction. The phone itself charges a premium for all this virtue, which is fair enough (see what we did there?), but we doubt many people will decide they’re virtuous enough to pay it.


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