Your Cell Is Funding
Child Slavery in Congo
You’re certainly already aware of this but it’s always worth repeating it: an essencial composite mineral used in our cellphones, laptops, mp3s and even Sony’s Playstations, is mined by workers as young as 11, laboring in subhuman conditions under the watch of implacable AK47-clad guards, in the African war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo since the middle 1990s.
Sold at top dollar, the extraction and trade of tantalum, a combination of columbite and tantalite known collectively as coltan, has the same nefarious effect the infamous blood diamonds have at the border of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Both are hightly profitable trades carried on by corrupted army and paramilitary forces, with the tacit approval of local governments. It’s hard to understimate the millions they make out of our increasing dependence on mobile communications and sophisticated lifestyle.
The U.S. Congress now is willing to step in the so called “conflict minerals” arena, and public awareness is growing. In fact, the pressure has become so great that this week Congolese President Joseph Kabila ordered a suspension in mining in the Nord Kivu, Sud Kivu, and Maniema provinces, all rich in precious minerals and gold. Experts doubt, though, that the power of his office alone can prevent a number of rag-tagged armed groups, along with Congo’s own and the Rwandan armies, from operating illegal mining operations in the region.
There’re other aggravating factors. Since 1998, 5.4 million war-related deaths have occurred in Congo, where eighty per cent of the world’s coltan comes from, according to a recent International Rescue Committee report. The vast majority of these deaths have been from preventable, non-violent causes such as disease and malnutrition – easily treatable conditions.
The provision in the recent finance reform approved in congress calls on technology companies to disclose when minerals used to create their products come from Congo or neighboring countries. But the companies say it’s not easy to do the kind of supply-chain checks needed to ensure that the minerals they’re using aren’t funding arms groups, and it’s virtually impossible to reliably trace minerals to their mine of origin.
Thus the just released “Blood in the Mobile,” a documentary by Danish filmmaker Frank Piasecki Poulsen, is a welcome addition to the debate over how to effectively tackle this issue. The film focus on the lives of Congolese children forced to toil underground for days at a time in claustrophobically narrow mines digging out minerals which are sold to the multinational telecommunications companies.
Poulsen posits that we, as consumers, all have to take our share of the blame for the ongoing illegal mining and oppressive conditions faced by Congolese slave laborers, for buying phones without demanding that companies do their utmost to make sure all the components were legally obtained. If there is a movement against conflict diamonds, why not against conflict mobiles?
“Every time we communicate through our mobile phone, we are connected with the crimes in Congo,” says the film’s website.