Bas van Abel - Fairphone
Nominated by Erik en Ronald Rietveld:
Bas van Abel
for Fairphone

We nominate Bas van Abel for Fairphone because he is using vision, creativity and open design in an effort to impel a billion-euro industry to change and offering consumers a more sustainable alternative to a product that plays a central role in their everyday lives.

Van Abel’s Fairphone looks the same as every other smartphone – but nothing could be further from the truth. Smartphones are tainted by child labour, environmental pollution, conflict minerals, African wars fought by child soldiers, and electronic waste. But the smartphone production chain is so complex that almost no one knows the whole story any longer. In building his ethical smartphone, Van Abel shows that it is possible to regain control over this process and to spare human beings and nature.

For years, Van Abel has been a pioneer of the open design movement. Its adherents allow their work to be freely distributed and documented and permit modifications and derivatives. The Fairphone makes open design a forceful instrument for social change, using the method to modify the production chain one step at a time. Van Abel has deliberately used the standard smartphone manufacturing process for the Fairphone in order to make use of the existing production chain and thereby effect positive change at various stages of the process. He has dared to take the first step on the long road toward sustainable, fair-trade smartphones free of child labour and conflict.

This initially modest Dutch initiative has sent a powerful signal to large companies like Apple and Samsung by making the mobile phone production chain transparent. One hopes these mighty companies will realise that consumers are becoming increasingly critical and would rather have ethical phones than ones that are merely “smart”.

Van Abel knows the Fairphone alone can’t solve the abuses of the phone and computer industries. But if it won’t immediately change the world, it does shows that change can begin with small steps. This is an essential point to be made in a society where technology has become self-evidently dominant and some systems have grown too complex to be fully understood. Van Abel rightly concentrates more on the system around the product than on its design. He collects best practice tips for the Fairphone project regarding sourcing, better labour conditions, and the replacement, reuse and recycling of parts and shares them with the industry.
What impresses us is the way Bas van Abel is driven by personal fascination and social necessity to change a product that is stuck in a rut of unsustainable manufacturing. Effectively the initiator of a movement, he brings together the right people and organisations. The resulting collaboration offers a genuine alternative to a problem about which producers as well as consumers are currently burying their heads in the sand. Bravo!

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