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Smartphones, Chinese Companies, Child Labors, and Human Rights Abuses

Many desires to have smartphones and other gadgets for varying reasons. This is mainly because they see this as a normal part of modern life. In urban cities and in rural parts of any country, you can see people, sometimes even children, using smartphones mainly for entertainment rather than to communicate. Typically, they use this technology as a means to fill the empty moments of their day without regards to their own health, its psychological effects, and ecological damages whatsoever. It seems a person feel incomplete if he/she cannot cope up with the latest trend, especially in technology. Sadly, none or very few of them knows that smartphone (and even tablets, electric cars, and other gadgets which uses rechargeable batteries) productions are being investigated for many issues.

Overproduction and the environment

In the country, you can also buy imitations of these gadgets from China for a cheaper price. Many Filipinos choose this as they cannot afford the real ones which usually causes double or triple. There are thousands of these imitated versions you can find on sidewalks and in many “tiangge” shops at the mall. However, most of these fake gadgets do not really last for longer periods of time and typically, hundreds of these gadgets end up on landfills every day. In some cases also, it injures users as they explode while in use. This is because most of these products are not really made with good quality materials and do not pass any standard testing. The big question is: how do these gadgets, imitations or real ones, are being produced?

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More electro-magnetic frequencies (EMF) and health hazards

Although many cell phone companies deny it (along with experts employed by the industry), there are now many studies in the US and Europe proving the link between cancers (and other health hazards) and the EMF emitted from cell phone towers. Many scientists in the field agree that cell sites are serious posing threats to human health. However, cell sites are popping up around the country producing even more amount of EMF for so-called more effective communication. Because of this, many groups and institutions expressed concerns reminding people to use their phones on a moderate level or not at all. For example, they encourage people to use SMS instead of calls or use landlines instead of communicating through wireless means. And in some studies, experts found that to some, EMF causes short term effects such as sleep disorders, anxiety, poor memory, headaches, and depression.

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More demand, more human and ecological exploitation, more garbage?

The demand for more smartphones also increases the demand for more mining especially cobalt minerals. As the generation quickly changes (conditioned by different gadget companies through state-sanctioned advertising), it also leads to rapid ecological destruction and human exploitation caused by mining activities in some unfortunate parts of the world such as Africa. Also, it has brought insurmountable wastes (plastics, heavy metals, etc.) as byproducts of this seemingly unstoppable technology. Cobalt is a vital component in rechargeable batteries used to power these gadgets. According to an article by Sarah Katz-Lavigne at the Washington Post website, “The demand for cobalt has risen quickly in recent years and in 2017 rose above 100,000 metric tons for the first time. Industry experts expect to see 2020 demand reach 120,000 tons per year. In February 2018, cobalt prices were more than 150 percent higher than the previous year”.

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What does it mean for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the children that mine them?

According to an article by Annie Kelly, an award-winning human rights journalist for the Guardian and Observer, she estimated that there are more than 255,000 cobalt miners in DRC in 2016 alone, and 35,000 of these are children. Ages of these child miners, which some had parents died in the tunnel doing the same job, mostly range from 6 to 16 years old. Many of them spend months digging and descending into the deep dangerous narrow tunnels, unable to stand or straighten their bodies up to 24 hours, fearing for a sudden collapse that might bury them alive. This has been a documented phenomenon in DRC, a country which supplies 60% of cobalt mineral to the world.

The Chinese buyers and traders support child exploitation

According also to the same reporter, there are many Chinese companies running the mines of south-eastern provinces of the DRC. These Chinese companies purchase cobalt from these child miners in the region. They do the preliminary refining stage for producing crude cobalt hydroxide before exporting these materials to China. After additional processes in China, they then sell it to manufacturers that produce electronic gadgets around the world. But according to the 2017 report by the Amnesty International, none of these huge companies make the effort to investigate and make actions to solve the oppression and exploitation of children, men, and women in the DRC cobalt mines.

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Denial and blame game

Even though their products sold millions to consumers across the globe, it seems none of these companies took the issue seriously. Many of these companies are aware of the suffering of these cobalt miners mainly because there were many investigations done by various labor and human rights groups in the region. Human rights organizations and media companies have documented many of these horrific stories yet none, or perhaps very few, of these electronic brands have taken the necessary steps to help. According also to Annie Kelly, “Although these companies state they do not tolerate child labour in their supply chains, none have invested enough resources or time into ensuring that they can adequately address the human rights abuses that could be lurking in the products they sell to millions across the world. They have consistently shifted responsibility for human rights abuses in the Congo on to their Chinese suppliers”.

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So what now?

As responsible citizens and humans (more than just mindless consumers), we must help educate people about the consequences of our actions with regards to consumption and embracement of the coming new technologies and electronic gadgets. We must ask ourselves: do we really need these gadgets or high communication technologies? Or, do we really need to buy new ones that increase the demands to produce? How can we reverse the exploitation and the destruction that it caused to us and to our ecology? Clearly, the most effective way to solve these problems is to stop the production once and for all. The last question is: how can it really be possible at this time?


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