Saturday, November 29, 2008

Blood Mobile Phones, Bloodier Cellular Phones

First, there was blood or conflict diamonds, now the vital innards of our mobile or cell phones are now being made by raw materials fueling the on-going conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ethical cell / mobiles wanted?

By: Vanessa Uy

After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the US Government / Bush Administration finally acknowledges the dangers of conflict / blood diamonds after their “intelligence annalists” found out that these “diamonds” played a vital part in funding al-Qaeda’s terror operations around the world. Weird being that a few years hence when only black Africans are suffering, the Republican Party-ruled US legislature don’t even give a damn about conflict diamonds.

Fast-forward to 2008, and the slave mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo have ignominiously became the cheapest supplier of vital minerals necessary for the manufacture of very cheap Chinese-made mobile phones / cellular phones. Since the world market demands the cheapness factor when it comes to the latest in mobile phone / cellular phone technology, social and ethical concerns with regards to manufacture and labor tend to fall by the wayside.

Coltan, a combination or aggregate of two mineral ores: columbite and tantalite. Columbite – the black mineral consisting essentially of iron and columbium / niobium. The other one is tantalite, a valuable source of the metal tantalum. These two transition metals are very useful as battery and ultra-miniaturized capacitor components in the latest model cellular and mobile phones. Given that tantalum capacitors are also used in the Hi Fi industry, the corporate world’s tacit support for the on-going armed conflict in Africa – especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo – is surely despicable. Especially when majority of “hapless consumers” are tricked into underwriting their callous disregard for human lives.

Dismantling the “economic system” that made the trade in “blood mobile phones” possible is not easy. Congolese rebel leader / freedom fighter and ethnic Tutsi Laurent N’Kunda has earned himself a legion of loyal followers that would gladly give up their lives in support of his cause. Even his official Website – especially those that can be seen internationally – portray him as if he’s an African R&B heartthrob. Though Laurent N'Kunda was very instrumental in providing safe-havens for Tutsi's fleeing from the Rwandan genocide back in April of 1994, the incidence of rape by his troops and slavery in the coltan mines certainly makes his brand of "nation building" open to much criticism. This is truly a case where one man’s terrorist is another one’s freedom fighter. Probably only an arrest and subsequent trial in The Hague could dissuade his supporters and bring him to justice, as opposed to a US government underwritten assassination operation, which could raise Laurent N’Kunda to martyrdom status.

But we the consumers can do our part too by buying only cellular phones / mobile phones that are ethically produced by socially responsible corporations, instead of choosing the latest and cheapest ones with a history of unethical business practice. Even though these “ethical phones” will be far from cheap, at least we are doing our fellow brethren a world of good. Just remember and be mindful of that “Instant Karma” that John Lennon used to warn us about.

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