7-year-old children mine the minerals used to make our cell phones and laptops
The cell phone or laptop you’re likely reading this on came at a much higher cost than the dollar amount you paid for it. Millions of African men, women and children have shed their blood so that we “first-world” citizens can have the luxury of “the world at our fingertips.”
The mineral-rich “Democratic Republic” of Congo has been bought and sold to Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and privileged technology consumers like me.
The main minerals used to manufacture our favorite electronic gadgets – tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold – are called “conflict minerals.” Just like blood diamonds, conflict minerals are extracted from a conflict or war zone. Part of the profits from the sale of the minerals is directed toward funding and perpetuating the conflict, to guarantee continued access to the natural resources and cheap laborers, who work like slaves because no other work is available in the region.
The most recent mineral to get added to the list of “conflict minerals” is cobalt, a crucial ingredient in lithium-based rechargeable batteries.
Amnesty International released a report earlier this year, describing the miserable working conditions for tens of thousands of children and hundreds of thousands of adults at cobalt mines all over the Congo.
Children as young as 7 work 12 or more hours a day separating the precious metal from rocks with mallets and chisels for as little as $2 a day. Children as young as 2 transport, wash, and crush minerals to earn half a dollar a day. Men work with no protective gear and are often crushed in collapsing mines. Women, who carry heavy loads of the mineral to lakes to be washed and sorted, complain of aching bodies and respiratory problems. All of them are at risk of fatal lung disease from breathing the cobalt dust.
“Sometimes people worked 24 hours out of 24, night and day, using head-mounted lamps — one team working days and one doing nights. At the time there were no rules, and sometimes miners died of fatigue. There were also deaths because the pits were deep and there was flooding,” one miner told Tech Republic.
“We were in a really isolated quarry that made transporting the minerals to the Walikale distribution center very hard. It was more than 50-km away, so the minerals had to be carried on men’s backs — and even women and children were used, too.”
Mass rape is used as a tool of war by all sides of the conflict – gangs and government – against girls as young as 3 and women as old as 70. The purpose is to intimidate local populations to secure control of the mines and trading routes.
Over 5 million people have died and more than a million women raped as a direct result of the ongoing war for control over the minerals in the Congo.
While most technology companies have pledged to try to buy as much non-conflict tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold as is available, there are simply not enough of these minerals available in non-conflict zones to meet our ever growing demand for the latest and greatest.
And with cobalt only recently being added to the list of conflict minerals, most companies – except Intel – have done nothing yet to seek alternative sources. The primary buyers of conflict cobalt are Apple, Dell, Hewlett Packard, Huawei, Lenovo (Motorola), LG, Microsoft Corporation, Samsung, Sony and Vodafone, as well as vehicle manufacturers like Daimler AG, Volkswagen and Chinese firm BYD.
Write your cell phone manufacturers and demand they use conflict-free minerals, or buy a conflict-free phone from a company like Fairphone.