Does Your Cell Phone Support Child Labor?
If you thought twice about Apple and other products after having learned about the 12 year olds building them in China, what might you think about the children digging the minerals they require out of the ground in the Congo?
Or that it is mainly because of the profits from those minerals that a war has raged there that has killed the equivalent of a Haiti earthquake every three months for the last decade?
And that although these minerals exist elsewhere, the ones from Congo are cheaper precisely because children and others are paid almost nothing to dig them out?
A new documentary ‘Blood in the Mobile‘ may provoke you with that information.
Danish director Frank Poulsen is no journalist but he was so disturbed with what he saw in the Congo that he caught a plane and — taking a cue perhaps from Michael Moore — filmed himself trying to get questions asked at Nokia HQ in Finland. Perhaps most disturbingly, he found out that they knew full well where their minerals came from.
The United Nations first raised the issue of ‘conflict minerals‘ a decade ago. Minerals from mines under the control of warring factions have been making their way into our mobiles for years.
Poulsen told The Guardian:
I think we often forget, or maybe don’t know, how closely connected we are. Things that go on in Africa seem to be very far away and have very little to do with us, but it has a lot to do with us. My mission, as a film-maker, is to make these connections.
Bravely, risking his life, Poulson negotiated his way into a “medieval” mine, located deep in the jungle, where thousands of people, many of them children, were living and working in hellish conditions. Children as young as 12 work as deep as 100 meters below ground.
I have never seen anything like this. This was really terrible. These armed groups are really stealing money from the poorest and most miserable people in the world.
Conflict minerals are cheap, up to half the cost of those sourced from Australia or Brazil. Congolese miners get around a dollar a day.
One of the reasons we know so little about these mines digging up the key minerals of cobalt (tantalum) and tungsten, tin and gold is because it is only brave (or foolhardly) film makers like Poulson who dare to visit them. Mainstream media hasn’t dared to.
There’s no clean water anywhere. There’s thousands of people, and you think: ‘How do they survive here? How can they do this? How is it possible?’
It was only this year that the European Union tabled a plan aimed at tracing minerals.
David Sullivan of the Enough Project told Living On Earth:
What we would like to see actually is a kind of shifting of the burden of proof because right now companies cannot tell you with certainty that they are not sourcing minerals from Eastern Congo. They instruct their suppliers not to, but they don’t have the checks and balances in their supply chain to be able to prove that their products do not contain these conflict minerals. And so what we would like to see is for those companies to really verifiably prove to consumers where they do get their minerals from.
We’ve yet to see the really bold leadership from the industry that’s going to make the difference. You know, companies are still competing based upon price and so to actually be the first to put in place the systems that would actually exclude these minerals from their supply chain, they see that as putting them at a competitive disadvantage.
So, we really need to up the volume around this issue so that companies start to see a demand for these conflict-free goods.
In 2010, responding to a New York Times story and a customer query, Steve Jobs said:
We require all of our suppliers to certify in writing that they use conflict few materials. But honestly there is no way for them to be sure. Until someone invents a way to chemically trace minerals from the source mine, it’s a very difficult problem.
- Dallas Video Fest, Sneak-view, see more: www.videofest.org
- Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival, Sneak-view, see more: http://www.flagstaffmountainfilms.org/
- International Film Festival, presented by the Monterey Bay Chapter of the United Nations Association in Monterey, California, USA on November 3, 4 and 5, see more: http://www.unamontereybay.org/UNA_Monterey_Bay/Home.html
The Blood in the mobile website has links to action you can get involved with.
Photo credit: Enough Project