Smartphones are revolutionary technological devices that have reshaped and evolved the way we communicate, learn, operate, and conduct remedial and important tasks daily. The technological miracle has made luxury and top quality entertainment a possibility at an affordable price; but all of this comes at a severe consequence, the misery and struggle for many third-world inhabitants.
Smartphones (in fact most technologies) are created using “conflict minerals.” These are rare minerals found in Africa, and most notably the Congo. The demand for these minerals have led to civil wars and militia barbarities. Minerals such as tin, tungsten, and tantalum are essential for the United State’s connected lifestyle. The Congo produces about 20 percent of the world’s stock of Tantalum. The mineral enables the creation of capacitors that store electric charge, allowing our devices to function without batteries. Tin fortifies the circuit boards used in all computing hardware, and tungsten allows smartphones to vibrate. These useful minerals are in such high demand that they have turned the locations they are found in into war zones and sources of misery for third-world inhabitants: well not all of the inhabitants.
The U.N. reported in 2009 that the annual trade in coltan, gold, and tin delivered hundreds of millions of dollars to the FDLR militia, whose diverse and bloody factions include Congolese Army renegades and Hutu fighters responsible for the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Experts say that “conflict minerals” helped fuel the aggression in war ravaged areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo. An approximated 5.4 million third-world inhabitants have died there from war related causes, disease, and malnutrition according to the International Rescue Committee.
The misery for third-world inhabitants for the sake of the production of smartphones doesn’t end with mining the minerals, the assembly of the devices occurs in areas of China in warehouses that have popularly gained the name: sweatshops. A China Labor Watch report of the working conditions in some of Apple’s factories have alleged to have revealed tired workers sleeping on the floor, the use of buckets for washing in sordid communal showers, and filthy urinals. Apple also allegedly discriminates against potential employees who have colored hair and tattoos; also those of certain ethnic groups or that are short in stature. Labor sites like this are also notorious for utilizing child labor in order to manufacture its goods.
In response to the allegations of being the source of misery for many third-world inhabitants, Apple stated that they would perform an audit of factory working conditions. The company has insisted that they have performed 15 audits since 2007 of their manufacturing facilities. Apple also stated that if any of the overseers of the factories have neglected to compensate their workers that they will see to it that the overseers reimburse those denied in full.
Distributors of smartphones are also making efforts to improve the mining of the minerals. HP, Intel, Microsoft, Dell and Apple have made more in-depth audits and tracking inquires of the sources of their materials, and have created a certification system to ensure consumers that the minerals used to create their products are “conflict-free.” Yet charity organization insist on more assurance and endeavors from the companies and the public to make inquires on where their items are coming from; and if smartphones, laptops, and computers are indeed a source of misery for many third-world inhabitants, than intervention is a necessity.
By Andres Loubriel