Editors note: Five years ago whilst travelling in Bolivia, I went deep into the mines of Potosi, also known as the ‘mountain that eats men’ (that’s where this photo was taken). The working conditions were horrendous. So I wasn’t surprised to see the mines of Bolivia mentioned in a critical new report by published by Baptist World Aid and Not For Sale Australia, that outlines where and how workers are being exploited in the production of our electronic items. This post is by one of the lead researchers and writers of this report, Gershon Nimbalker. What Gershon has to say is too important to ignore.
Given the amount of shows I’ve seen on my television and news I’ve devoured on my smartphone, I was shocked to discover that my devices were hiding another story that was never projected up on the screen.
It’s the story of 12 year old Aziz. Aziz works in hellish conditions, toiling in mines beneath the earth for long hours every day, exposed to poisonous heavy metals and horrendously unsafe mining practices.
Aziz should be in school, or even at play with his friends. Instead, he is at the mines, enduring a living nightmare in the hope that he and his family might eat. He’s mining for tantalum, a mineral critical for the production of many electronic goods.
I’ve come to realise that through the products we buy, we are connected to people all around the world.
Every time we pick up our phone, we are connected to someone far down the line. Sadly that someone is all too often being paid pitifully low wages and being condemned to a life of desperate poverty, and occasionally they are even victims of slavery.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimate that right now there are 168 million children engaged in child labour throughout the world, with more than half (85 million) engaged in the worst forms of child labour – that includes sexual servitude, mining and slavery. It’s terrifying to imagine 85 million children trapped in slavery, working to serve someone else’s sick perversions or being sent down mines.
The numbers are staggering, and it’s disturbing to think that whenever I reach for my Kindle, or flick on my flat screen TV – I’m connected to them. There could even be slavery in my smartphone. (Check below to see how your favourite companies and brands fare according to their respect for labor rights and whether or not they pay a fair ‘living wage’)
But here’s the thing, if we are connected it means we can use that connection to drive change.
The companies that produce our tech, companies like Apple, Amazon and Samsung, don’t have to be reliant on these exploitative practices. In fact, they can be a massive vehicle for opportunity and hope. Companies bring jobs, investment, technology and tax revenues to fund development. They can help lift millions out of poverty.
As consumers and citizens in this global world, we can use our connections to these companies to bring about change.
1.) Be open and get informed about the issues. My team here at Baptist World Aid have just released a report with our friends from Not For Sale on the ethical labour rights practices of 39 of the major electronics companies (Including Apple, Samsung and Nokia).
Disturbingly, 97% of the companies we evaluated could not demonstrate they were paying workers a ‘living wage’ , i.e. enough to live off. Nokia was the only exception.
Download the report at www.behindthebarcode.org.au
2.) Be vocal and speak out against unethical practices. You can start speaking out to your favourite companies, and ask them what they’re doing to protect workers in their supply chains. Not just at the factory level, but all the way down to their raw materials. While 49% of companies knew all or almost all of where their manufacturing came from, a mere 18% had knowledge of where their raw materials were coming from, and even then it was only partial.
If companies don’t know, or don’t care who is producing their products, they can’t be sure that the workers aren’t being exploited.
3.) Be fair by preferencing companies that are more ethical. You don’t have to boycott companies, but it makes sense to try to buy products from companies that are intentionally trying to look after their workers. Sadly it’s meant for me that I’m now suffering from Super Mario Kart depravation (Nintendo was given a D grade).
Download the handy wallet sized guide and mobile app from www.behindthebarcode.org.au to use the next time you’re out shopping.