EE MVNO The Phone Co-op has forged a deal with smartphone manufacturer Fairphone to stock its ethical smartphones in a bid to raise consumer awareness of the mobile phone industry’s use of metals from militia-controlled mines in Africa and unethical employment practices in smartphone factories.
Speaking to Mobile, The Phone Co-op CEO Vivian Woodell said interest in the Fairphone has been strong, with several hundred sold in the first three weeks since launch.
Woodell said the MVNO is targeting its base of 27,000 fixed, mobile and broadband customers and ethical consumers across the UK. He said: ‘The UK has a huge ethical consumer market and we have had a lot of interest in the Fairphone already. We have sold hundreds of phones already and we expect that to accelerate as word gets out. It has also attracted a reasonable number of new customers as well as existing fixed line customers. Quite a lot of our business customers are interested in the Fairphone too.’
He added: ‘This isn’t just an ethical product. It is also a really solid, quality product. It’s like driving a Volvo. When you use it, you know you have a really well-made product in your hand.’
The Android 4.2.2 phone comes with a dual Sim slot, a quad-core 1.2Ghz processor, 16GB of storage, a front- and back-facing 8-megapixel camera and a 4.3in touchscreen with Asahi Dragontail Glass. It also has a user accessible battery. The phone is made from metals sourced from conflict-free mines and is made in factories that provide worker-controlled welfare funds that benefit the local communities. The smartphone is also designed to be sustainable, with a dual Sim slot to prevent the need for two phones, and a replaceable battery and screen. The Phone Co-op is offering customers the Android smartphone free on pay-monthly contracts, which start at £22 a month. Customers can also buy it for £250.
The MVNO is also set to launch a mobile phone recycling business in the next two months as part of its campaign to reduce manufacturer demand for metals such as tantalum and tin, much of which comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where militias have seized many of the mines to fund an ongoing war that is devastating the region.
Woodell said: ‘We all need to be aware of the impact of what we buy and what we produce to sell, and what we throw away.
‘If all the phones in people’s drawers were recycled, manufacturers wouldn’t need to source metals from mines in these areas and it would be much better for the environment. That is why we are about to launch our recycling service.’
The Phone Co-op offers mobile, fixed line and broadband services and has approximately 27,000 customers, of which around 9,000 take mobile services. Its business customers include charities, other co-operatives, schools and public sector corporations. The business is totally owned by its customers. Earlier this year it launched a partnership with Co-operative Food to provide Co-operative Mobile PAYG Sim cards to more than 3,800 stores across the UK.