Was My Smartphone Made By A Slave?

 

With an estimated 224.3 million smartphone users in the U.S. and an estimated 2.1 billion smartphone users worldwide, it’s likely that you own a smartphone. But as you’ve spent thousands of minutes scrolling through social media or browsing the internet, did you ever wonder where your smartphone came from? Did you ever think that the device which demands so much of your attention could have been made by a slave?


Photo of a 13-year-old named Charles sorting through by-products of industrial mines to find rocks containing cobalt. (CNN)

Photo of a 13-year-old named Charles sorting through by-products of industrial mines to find rocks containing cobalt. (CNN)


The average smartphone is composed of at least 60 different metals, many of which are mined in countries around the world. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, is a rich source of minerals such as tin, tantalum, tungsten, gold, and cobalt - all of which can be found in smartphones. It is also listed as one of the deadliest spots on earth due to the near constant wars waged over the rich mineral deposits found there. Many of the Congolese are forced to slave in the mineral mines because they are orphans, threatened by violence, or made to repay a debt.


Photo of child laborers sorting and crushing cobalt. (CNN)

Photo of child laborers sorting and crushing cobalt. (CNN)


Sadly, a lot of these Congolese slaves are children. An estimated 40,000 children work in the mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These children are missing out on parental affection, education, and the opportunity to build their lives all to work in areas with poor ventilation, high temperatures, and frequent accidents for a mere $1 or $2 a day. Amnesty International interviewed one of these children who stated that he would often “spend 24 hours down in the tunnels. I arrived in the morning and would leave the following morning.”

But as these individuals work in horrific conditions and in slavery to mine the minerals needed for our smartphones, many companies are simply turning a blind eye. For example, in 2014, a supply factory in China that conducts business with Samsung was found to employ underage workers and have harmful labor conditions. This same factory had been reported in a Samsung audit to be free of any child labor.


Photo of Samsung Electronics headquarters in Seoul (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji)

Photo of Samsung Electronics headquarters in Seoul (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji)


With Apple, AT&T, and Microsoft listed in the Fortune 500, the business of selling smartphones to consumers is booming. It is no surprise then that forced labor generates an estimated $150 billion in profit. Mark Dummett, Business and Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International, sums up the situation by saying, “The glamorous shop displays and marketing of state of the art technologies are a stark contrast to the children carrying bags of rocks, and miners in narrow man-made tunnels risking permanent lung damage.”

Photo of the Mutanda copper mine in Katanga province operated by Glencore. (Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Photo of the Mutanda copper mine in Katanga province operated by Glencore. (Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Before you send another text or check your email for the hundredth time today, take a moment and consider where your smartphone came from. Consider the fact that a slave could’ve touched some part of your device.

According to an article from the Independent, “Our appetite for cheap, disposable gadgets is encouraging ever more harmful labor conditions in electronics factories in countries like China and India.”

Don’t simply turn a blind eye to the fact that thousands of individuals are forced to work in conditions with poor ventilation, high temperatures, and frequent accidents. Some ways that you can advocate for them are:

  1. Write to your smartphone’s developer. Many companies list contact information on their websites, enabling you to inquire about their supply chains. Ask them if they are aware that many suppliers use slaves to mine the needed smartphone materials or enslave laborers in the factories that produce the smartphone components. Ask them if they are 100% certain that their suppliers do not participate in such inhumane practices.

  2. Support organizations such as KnowTheChain, FreeTheSlaves, and Amnesty International. FreeTheSlaves has partnered with organizations located in the Congo to strengthen community resistance to slavery, build public awareness, build the capacity of Congolese civil society, improve the knowledge, attitudes, and practice of key government officials, and work to adopt anti-slavery practices by International NGOs. Amnesty International works to conduct research in countries violating human rights then advocate and campaign for the rights of those individuals. Lastly, KnowTheChain informs companies of forced labor in global supply chains and journeys with those companies to fight against forced labor.

  3. Spread the awareness. There are billions of smartphone users worldwide who scroll social media and browse the Internet. Share articles and resources with your friends and family on social media and encourage them to fight for the lives of those being enslaved around the world.

Many slaves probably worked hard to craft your smartphone. By advocating for them, we can help them gain their freedom and rights.


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About the Author

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Galaxy tights, brightly patterned socks, and a steaming cup of tea in her T. Rex mug often accompany Megan Shupp when she sits down to write. After graduating from Thomas Edison State University with her Bachelor in English and earning a Graduate Certificate in Editing from UC Berkeley, she is excited to use her passion for writing and stories to join Dressember in their fight against slavery.