Mobile phones, more and more, control the way we live.
Nomophobia, an acute fear of being without one’s mobile phone, is now a recognized medical condition and there are specific rehabilitation centres that deal with this condition. However, all of us have had that feeling of angst when we haven’t brought our mobile phone out with us, or our battery goes dead. No matter how much you try to forget about it, there is always that slight preoccupation, a feeling that you could be missing something immensely important, that your whole future could be hinged on the phone calls and messages that you are not receiving. You get home, instantly check your phone and inevitably find a message from Orange telling your bill is ready for viewing or your mum asking if you are alive.
But do we ever think about the horror and suffering that goes into the materials our phones (and other electronic devices) are made out of?
The Danish documentary filmmaker Frank Poulsen did and what he discovered was a horrifying but all too familiar truth. Of consumerism, of exploitation and of suffering.
Cassiterite, a tin oxide mineral, is an essential part of all our mobile phones and is mined, primarily, in the , Congo. What may, or more likely may not, come as a surprise is that Cassiterite is mined under horrendous conditions and has helped to fuel and finance a civil war that seems to be continuing ad infinitum, has meant the loss over 5 million lives and the rape of hundreds of thousands of women. Warring factions fight for control over these mines and have minimal concern for the human cost of the extraction of this mineral.
What Poulsen found on gaining access to the Bisie mine in Northern Congo was almost unspeakable. He described it as “like stepping into the front yard of hell” where conditions were “medieval”. Children are made to work upto 100 metres underground for 12 days at a time. Women offer sexual services as if they are selling vegetables. There is no running water and the depths of poverty are accepted as the normal standard of living. The scenes he witnessed were reminiscent of a time when Leopold II of Belgium ran the Congo as a private slave colony.
The documentary he made about this issue is deeply moving. It highlights the dark heart of our commercialism, the human cost and suffering of those who we are indelibly connected to but prefer not to see, and of the lies of companies and their supposedly morally impermeable Corporate Social Responsibilities.
It is not asking us to stop the use of our mobiles and other electronic devices, but what it is asking us to do is to be more aware of where our goods come from and to put pressure on those companies who use, directly or indirectly, labour and minerals which are the cause of so much human suffering.
Blood diamonds effect very few of us. Blood Mobiles effect us all.
Just doin’ ma duty,
Old Bushel Britches x