Posts Tagged ‘child labor’

As most mobile phones contain coltan, it’s not too dramatic to say there’s blood on your cell phone – the blood of Congolese workers who are dying in their hundreds of thousands in a conflict that continues to claim many lives. There’s no doubt the demand for coltan is financing the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and helping to promote the evil that is child/slave labor.

                                                             Cell phones in all their innocence.

Many tens of thousands of children in the DRC are employed as miners – oftentimes in coltan mines. The work is primitive, dirty and dangerous.

In a chapter headed Blood Minerals, we address this pressing issue in our book THE ORPHAN CONSPIRACIES: 29 Conspiracy Theories from The Orphan Trilogy. Here’s an excerpt:

Workers dig large craters in riverbeds to access the coltan. They then mix water and mud in big tubs to encourage the heavy coltan to settle on the bottom – much like gold miners did panning and sluicing for gold in years gone by. The mines management calls it child labor and officially employs children as young as 12 for this work; the outside world views it as slave labor, which is exactly what it is of course.

Child labor = slave labor in the DRC.

In an October 31, 2010 article by the leading Pakistani media outlet The Express Tribune, columnist Fatima Najm asks if “Pakistan’s 100 million cell phone users know their devices may be soaked in Congolese blood”.

Najm says within each of those phones are small amounts of coltan that add up to a lucrative illegal trade. “The explosive growth in the wireless industry means that demand for these tin ores collectively results in the rape and torture of hundreds of thousands of innocent Congolese people a year”.

The columnist points out that Congo is resource-rich, and its mighty river system has the potential to power all of Africa’s electricity needs. “Experts say stability in Congo could translate into peace and progress for all of Africa, but at least five neighboring countries have proxy militias battling each other in Congo for control of valuable tin ores”.

Najm makes an interesting comparison between Congolese coltan and diamonds, advising it’s logical to assume that “given the widespread violence attributed to coltan…one would imagine it would be destined for the same sort of notoriety as blood diamonds”.

Alas, not so, it would seem. ‘Blood diamonds’ obviously sounds a whole lot sexier than ‘blood coltan’ to Western media, moviegoers and the general public.

Primary image for Blood Diamond Blood Diamond

Blood Diamond the movie and star Leonardo DiCaprio made blood diamonds “sexy”.

Predictably, smart phone manufacturers and the like have been quick to distance themselves from the whole murky business. Some publish disclaimers, denying that they source coltan from militia’s operating in the DRC; many claim the supply chain for coltan mined in the DRC is so complex it’s impossible to ascertain whether it has been legally or illegally mined and supplied.

To be fair, several high profile manufacturers in the US and elsewhere are sourcing their coltan from outside the DRC and, indeed, outside central Africa until such time as the legitimacy of mining operations there can be more clearly established. However, they’re in the minority.

Cell phone consumers and others have long been questioning the legitimacy of products. For the most part, it appears their questions are falling on deaf ears. Perhaps it’s time to ask more questions – and ask them louder.

There has been a campaign in recent years to try to force the big multinational companies to disclose whether or not they use Congolese conflict minerals. However, it’s often impossible to prove where such minerals come from.

Just as crafty banksters frequently transfer vast sums of money between various offshore tax havens to conceal their money trail, corporations that profit from ultra-cheap Congolese conflict minerals have middle men – usually warlords – who smuggle minerals from country to country so it’s extremely difficult to trace their origins.

Convoluted smuggling routes make source of conflict minerals hard to trace.

Of course, the problem of conflict minerals isn’t limited to the Democratic Republic of the Congo; it exists throughout much of the African continent. Equally, the problem isn’t limited to Africa.

Read more in The Orphan Conspiracies: 29 Conspiracy Theories from The Orphan Trilogy:

A book that’s for the common people…the 99%.