Blood in the Mobile

Design & Technology

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Mobile phones have become an essential part of modern living. You will most likely own one, along with a range of other electronic devices. Maybe I’m naive but I would not expect my phone to be directly linked to war and conflict. I would have assumed that humanity wouldn’t have allowed for such a popular product to be responsible for the rape and deaths of millions of people. Unfortunately I was wrong. After watching the documentary ‘Blood in the Mobile’, I struggled to pick up my phone without feeling like there was blood on my hands.

Some of the precious metals that our phones rely on to function are only available in the Congo. The popularity of these metals has played a big part in funding the bloody conflict there. Armed groups are running mines hidden deep in the jungle that can only be described as hellish. Children as young as 12 are working 100 metres underground in horrendous conditions to source the metals we require for our phones. Since when did being able to scroll down our facebook feeds become more important than the wellbeing of a child. Something has gone horribly wrong. I won’t go into too much detail into the situation in the Congo as I highly recommend you watch the documentary yourself. I’m going to warn you, it’s not a pleasant watch but I think it’s very important that we are all aware of what is going on. It’s shocking how little media coverage this situation has.

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What frustrated me the most when watching the documentary was how poorly the mobile industry came across. Nokia, a company that publicly advocates social responsibility, was contacted numerous times to ask if they used any ‘blood’ minerals in their mobiles. It was insane how hard it was to communicate with them, constant excuses were given before eventually they spoke. It’s worth mentioning now that the documentary was made in 2011. The situation in the Congo had been known for a decade at this point, yet Nokia had no proof that they had made any progress in tackling the issue. 

The shots of the Nokia headquarters, filled with corporate suited men and women was a sharp contrast to the previous shots of children working in dark mines. The Nokia employees were in an entirely different world. When they spoke with apparent sincerity about their concerns over the issue and how they were taking it very seriously, it was hard to not think that they were so ignorant about the reality of what was happening. I’m sure they did feel bad about the story they were told of the young boy that was working in the mines, but it was as if they weren’t actually taking into account he was as human as they were.

Nokia-headquarters

Obviously I am aware that ensuring there is no trace of blood minerals in Nokia’s phones was very tricky. There are so many different parties involved and the supply chain is confusing and hard to keep track of. However, a progressive step that was suggested to Nokia was to publish all of their supply chains. Making their supply chains transparent would assist in identifying where their materials were coming from. Nokia’s response to this suggestions is what left me in complete despair after watching the documentary. Basically they refused to publish this information because their competitors would see it and may catch on to their new technology development. I was honestly at a loss when I heard this. Consumerism has gone way too far. What has happened to compassion, how can a company be so cold hearted. Releasing this documentation would save so many lives, I don’t understand how that has just been put aside, money being a much higher priority than human lives.

When the documentary finished I honestly didn’t know what to say. I was so deeply saddened by what I had seen. I honestly had less faith in humanity. However after I’d had enough time to let it sink in, I did start to think about how there must be a way to help this situation. The documentary has a rather negative view, leaving you thinking the whole thing is a lost cause. I refused to believe that there is no way to stop blood minerals from always being in our mobiles. I am not willing to just accept it. 

Person holding smart phone in hands to communicate and text

Big corporations like Nokia are very powerful and have the potential to have a huge influence on situations like what is happening in the Congo. But if they aren’t taking action then what do we do? How do we, as consumers, make a difference? The answer is simple. Consumers must demand change. The true power is in the consumer, we are who buy their products and if we refused to buy blood minerals then phone companies would be forced to make the necessary changes so that they can offer us conflict free products. 

However, the sad fact is people aren’t going to stop buying electronic devices in protest about blood minerals. As much as I’d like to say I would, we live in a society where we are way too reliant on our phones and laptops to make that sacrifice. This makes me really sad, I wish it wasn’t the case. I do believe that most people do care about the wellbeing of others and that’s why I think it is so important to raise awareness of this situation. The documentary was made 8 years ago, yet I saw it for the first time the other day. I’m sure I’m not the only one in this position. I think raising awareness is an easy step that can be taken without having to tackle our consumerism based society which in my view is what is preventing any real progress being made.

Some improvements in awareness have be made. In 2012, the SEC issued a rule requiring that companies disclose whether their products contain conflict minerals that are “necessary to the functionality or production” of their products. There are flaws in this, for example supply chains are always changing to an extent that it’s impossible to keep track to ensure that they remain conflict free. However, it’s a step in the right direction. We just need to be taking much bigger steps! 

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