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How are phones made? The true cost of Gold in your Smartphone

Published date: February 2022

Crammed with all your contacts, photos, memories, and the device that keeps you connected to work, friends and family 24/7, your mobile phone is a very precious piece of technology. But it’s not just what you save onto it that makes it valuable. Your smartphone contains dozens of minerals and materials sourced from all over the world each with its own complex supply chain.

How are phones made with Gold?

One of the most expensive minerals used to create your smartphone is Gold. Because of its excellent conductivity, Gold is commonly used in printed circuit boards as well as other wiring and components. And of course, it’s not only found in phones. It’s an essential material in many of today’s consumer electronics. In fact, the electronics industry is the third largest consumer of Gold worldwide, after the jewellery industry and financial sectors.

It’s the journey Gold takes from the mine to your phone that is often concerning. Gold is one of the four conflict minerals identified by the Dodd-Frank Act which means it has been known to finance rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And because even the tiniest amount is extremely valuable it’s also attractive to smugglers. Even outside conflict and high-risk regions, Gold mining often causes social and environmental challenges, such as land disputes, sub-standard wages, unsafe working conditions, and child labour. However, for many mining communities worldwide, it provides their main source of income and livelihood.

It’s not just the Gold in your phone that has a social and environmental impact. The production of your mobile also includes other minerals and metals such as tin, tungsten, copper, cobalt, aluminium and lithium. Hence, manufacturers are dependent upon the mining sector and sourcing the materials that make up your mobile phone comes with serious consequences.

Fairtrade Gold in your Fairphone matters

That’s why we’ve partnered with Fairphone, a company renowned for creating the world’s most sustainable mobile phones. Fairphone’s values align very much with our own. They’re all about creating a better future for both people and the planet and have been focused on mapping their supply chain and tracing the materials used in their production. 

As well as using recycled plastics and copper in their phones, they were the first electronics company to source Gold from Fairtrade-certified artisanal mines. These mines meet the Fairtrade Standard for Gold and Precious Metals, which means rigorous social, economic and environmental regulations are followed including child protection policies. In addition, the miners are guaranteed a Fairtrade Minimum Price and Premium that assists in sustainable development for the community. 

What other materials matter in your smartphone?

Cobalt is another conflict metal that’s found in every mobile phone on the planet and used in the lithium-ion rechargeable batteries used in smartphones, tablets and laptops. In 2018 Siddharth Kara visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo for an article in The Guardian and documented the horrors at 31 mining sites, citing how this multi-million-pound industry is built on the ‘backs of the oppressed women, men and children – some as young as six years old - of the Congo who toil in putrid conditions, endure pitiful wages, grave injury and risk death to mine their cobalt.’

In order to address these issues Fairphone co-founded the Fair Cobalt Alliance, an action platform focusing on improving the livelihoods and working conditions of artisanal cobalt miners and their communities in the Congo. This action-oriented group drives impact by investing directly to empower the people working in the mines, as well as those living in the surrounding communities.

It’s hard to believe making a call, sending an email or a text message has such an impact on the lives of those who are literally at the coalface of mobile phone production. That’s why we offer Fairphone mobile phones. We’re trying to change the world and one small step is by changing your mobile phone.

To find out more about Fairphone, please visit here


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