CHILDREN OF THE CONGO WHO RISK THEIR LIVES TO SUPPLY OUR MOBILE PHONES
You handle conflict minerals every time you use your mobile phone – but business has the power to change the situation
In unsafe mines deep underground in eastern Congo, children are working to extract minerals essential for the electronics industry. The profits from the minerals finance the bloodiest conflict since the second world war; the war has lasted nearly 20 years and has recently flared up again.
In that same 20-year period, the concept of corporate social responsibility in the west has evolved from companies giving employees a gym and having some photo opportunities for the chief executive, to addressing human rights throughout the supply chain, yet ICT companies such as Nokia, Samsung, HTC and Apple still cannot guarantee there will be no child labour used in the manufacturing of their products. There is now an increased focus on the supply chain as a crucial element if a company wants to call itself socially responsible.
For the last 15 years, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been a major source of natural resources for the mobile phone industry. This special relationship has caused incalculable damage.
I have never experienced anything like what I saw the first time I entered the mines of Bisie. Armed groups had made a simple gate of sticks, and everybody going in or out had to pay them money. Around 15-25,000 people were trapped inside this village made of mud and plastic bags.
It was like stepping into the front yard of hell. Women everywhere were calling out their offers of sexual services to bypassers as if they were selling vegetables. Boys as young as 12 stared at us with layers of dried mud on their still-childish cheeks, shy of the bright light after days underground digging out valuable minerals. Everything brought into the village is taxed at the gate; a bottle of water cost several dollars, a kilo of meat cost $12. But because it is more expensive to leave, people stay inside just to get a meal.
There is still hope
It doesn't have to be this way. Fortunately, there are some very powerful tools business can use to help change this. If the will is there, plenty can be done to improve things.
Due diligence must come first. When the electronics industry cannot guarantee that there are no blood minerals in their products, it is because they often do not know who they subcontract to. A guarantee requires that one actually knows one's supply chains. Companies must appoint in-house representatives to get out of their offices and be agents who travel down the supply chain. They should be able to tell the truth about the circumstances when they return – preferably with cameras. Video can be a powerful tool when it comes to understanding the need for policies.
If there are too many weapons in circulation, and it is not safe for an issued agent to investigate whether a mine uses child labour, that is likely to be a very good indicator that one should not source from that particular area.
Transparency is a fantastic tool if one wants to be socially responsible. Warlords finance large-scale killing of civilians with minerals that get melted in Malaysia and then disappear into the undergrowth of subcontractors. Transparency is absolutely crucial when you want to track them down. These supply chains must be published.
It is time that the electronics industries got together to take real action. There is even an industry body set up to help: the Global e-Sustainability Initiative works for responsible ICT-enabled transformation to a sustainable world.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been associated with the electronics industry's intoxicating cash flows since the middle of the 1990s; the industry has claimed the lives of more than 5 million people. The case of this country is special, but natural resources becoming a curse for developing countries is far from rare.
We need transparency in business to spot the grim truth. Some things have not changed very much since colonial times, but instead of theft sanctioned by empires, it's now controlled by markets. Especially in Africa, companies operate with super-cynical exploitation of natural resources. Value simply disappears out of the continent without benefiting the local people.
The funding needed for a boost of the developing world lies within the countries themselves, but the power lies with businesses who are willing to pay a fair price for the natural resources they import. For every euro the international community spends on development and humanitarian aid in Africa, 10 euros are going the other way in the form of natural resources. That is certainly not corporate social responsibility.
Frank Piasecki Poulsen is a Danish filmmaker. His most recent work, Blood in the Mobile, addresses the issue of conflict minerals in telecommunications.
Source : http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/blog/congo-child-labour-mobile-minerals