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Buying New Electronics This Holiday Season? Murder, Human Trafficking, and Horrific Air Pollution....

...What Big Tech Doesn't Want You To Know!

 

 

Table Of Contents: 

1) Holiday Season & Avoiding Unpleasant Truths

 

2) The Dirty Secret of Globalization and Hierarchical Capitalism

 

3) The Other Side of The Story: Hundreds of Millions Join the Worlds Global Middle Class

 

4) When Capitalism Perpetually Fails the People Socially, Economically &            Politically

    4.1) The History of the Congo & The Exploitation of The African Continent

    4.2) The Rise of Electronics Precious Mineral Coltan & the resulting                          exploitation, corruption, and violence

     4.3) The Congo Today - better, but many Underlying Problems Persist

 

5) Ending Exploitation Once and For All in The Congo 

     5.1) Circular Economy for Electronics (especially smartphones)

     5.2) Regulation of EVERY aspect of a multi-national company's supply                    chain:

     5.3) Disposing of Electronics Properly and Making Customers Return Old                Electronics for New Ones

     5.4) Spread Awareness of Coltan and other conflict minerals,                                  pressure Big Tech!

    5.5) True Sovereignty, True Unity, True Democracy, True Economic                         Independence of the Congolese People and The Continent As A                       Whole

 

6) Conclusion

7) Sources

 

 

1) Holiday Season & Avoiding Unpleasant Truths

 

When pumpkin spice lattes turn into peppermint and gingerbread - it's officially holiday season!

 

Cue the Santa Mercedes commercials, the huge clothing sales (we are having one too at L'Aquila, BTW - don't miss out!), and the holiday movies and specials on Lifetime, VH1, Netflix, Amazon & More!

 

Let's be real though....Elf is still the best, and Home Alone 2 is a close second.  

 

Andddd don't forget about that wine, baby........

Rose has now been officially replaced with red, and flip flops have been replaced with warm, fuzzy winter socks.  

 

 

But here's the part that hasn't changed, ever, in fact.

 

 

2) The Dirty Secret of Globalization and Hierarchical Capitalism

 

Hierarchical capitalism is often dressed in equality's clothing (since we all technically have the freedom and "access" to buy a mansion, right?).

 

....and it ain't just the patriarchy, it's what makes the world "shake"iarchy.

 

(Ever wonder why your landlord is the only title in the U.S. with "lord" in it?) 

 

The bottom 50% (or more) of the planet working in slavish conditions for pennies on the dollar.....all to make the shit we will likely forget about by January.  

 

It's the dirty secret of globalization we pretend to avoid, and try to ignore whenever possible.

 

Like the homeless guy on the street, the beaten puppy with one eye on television, or the addict in our neighborhood...or family.  

 

We all run from unpleasant truths.  Why?  

 

Perhaps we want to believe in the adult version of Santa Claus.  That everyone is free, and that the world is fair.  

 

Perhaps we don't want to acknowledge that capitalism manifests itself globally as hierarchical for most, especially in developing countries.

 

It's a very simple arbitrage of labor, if someone gets paid one tenth an hour to produce comparable goods or services overseas when compared to the U.S. or Western Europe - it's really only going to be a matter of time before it's outsourced. 

 

How long will it be before your job is outsourced or replaced with automation or artificial intelligence? 

 

Well that depends on several factors, and perhaps is a topic for another blog post - but in the future, it will more of the accounting and marketing jobs with bigger salaries, benefits and 401k's and less unskilled labor than you might think.  

 

For now at least, we often are unwilling to acknowledge that we are, globally speaking, the beneficiaries of this system, where the top one billion of our global population's consumer behavior is driving the economy and livelihood for so many poorer nations.

 

Although I've painted our globalized economy as gloom and doom thus far, the benefits are also pulling millions out of abject poverty to the working middle class around the world, and that's hugely beneficial for a nation or region.  

 

That of course, is the other side of the story.  

 

3) The Other Side of The Story: Hundreds of Millions Join the Worlds Global Middle Class

 

In China alone, only 4% of it's population was considered middle class in 2002.  Today, that number is 31%, and constitutes over 420 million people!  

 

Collectively around the globe, approx. 140 million people are entering the middle class each year, and most of the new entrants are from Asian countries.  

 

Many of these people are finally having access for the first time to clean water, healthy food, healthcare, proper schooling and more.  

 

So how do we balance these two sides of capitalism?  How do we balance moving an entire nation into the middle class with so many of the horrific human rights abuses and exploitation that are associated with it?  

 

More importantly, what about the nations and regions where the wages and working conditions and benefits never seem to get any better for the laborer? 

 

4) When Capitalism Perpetually Fails the People Socially, Economically &   Politically

 

In some nations and regions in Africa, this is very much the case, and that's really the point of our blog post today.  

 

When conditions get worse over time and create the conditions for war and civil conflict as a result of our global consumerism lifestyle - what is the fine line between generational exploitation and slavery? Does the line even matter?

 

That's why before we dive deeper into this topic, we want to remind our readers that L'Aquila Active is:

 

only Pro-Capitalism..... IF Capitalism is Conscious, Empathetic, and Sustainable.  

 

We will also argue in the long run, one of the benefits of our social media and photo/video data driven world, is that in the long run, the truth will always be revealed.  

 

As a company, doing the right thing from the start might be easier today than misinformation, deception and endless PR campaigns. 

 

To make it very simple, for a company to be empathic, conscious, and system -  it must benefit all people and ecosystems involved throughout the entire process, or at the very worst, not make any worse off.  

 

Welcome to the supply chain of big tech - this is where some of the worst offenders of human rights, worker exploitation, and pollution in recent memory occur, albeit indirectly.  

 

Like most stories that end with exploitation of people and the environment, it begins with a BOOM and a huge global demand for technology.

 

In the last decade, no industry has grown like big tech, and whether it be search platforms (Google), social media (Facebook, Instagram, or smartphones (Apple, Samsung).  

 

And although search platforms and social media companies have plenty of issues of their own, whether being accused of search basis, interfering with elections,  intentionally creating addictive behavior by increasing dopamine feedback loops, and increasing depression, anxiety, and stress in young adults -the good news is that most workers are not exploited nor is the environment in the same direct way as traditional technology product manufacture.

 

However, we do HIGHLY recommend taking a "break" from technology at least once per week, and tell the world "BRB!" (be right back)

  

Focusing on electronics, especially smartphones, is the primary focus here since most of us use our smartphone each day, and many will admit that they are at least a bit addicted to it (author raises hand). 

 

Creating a smartphone can be broken in three basic steps:

1) raw mineral extraction

2) manufacture of components

3) assembly

 

All three of these steps have had abuses in the past, and many are still ongoing. 

Raw material extraction consists of getting all of the metals and minerals out of the ground to produce both components as well as the frame and core of the phone.  Some are rare, but most are fairly common such as aluminum and iron. 

 

The worst offenses are generally in raw material extraction, and sadly for workers, in most cases, the pay is awful. 

 

Like under $2 a day awful.

 

Take the Congo region, for example.  Sadly, although rich in so many resources and with a land mass area the size of Western Europe, this country is rife with corruption, bribery, rape, child exploitation, rape, and other human right and environmental abuses.  

 

The Congo is probably the worst example, and I think it's worth explaining the history of the Congo to explain how it became the poster child for conflict minerals, human rights abuses, and supply chain mismanagement for major multinational corporations.  

 

4.1) The History of the Congo & The Exploitation of The African Continent 

 

Once again, it became with a BOOM for African resources, dominated by European Colonists that scrambled to divide and conquer the entire continent in the late 1800's.  Within twenty years, over 90% of Africa was "claimed" by different European nations.  

 

And during this period, no nation suffered as much as the Congolese people, in one of the world's greatest genocides in history.  A history that should be part of every student's curriculum, but is often sadly ignored. 

 

The Belgian people, under King Leopold II, created an army of 90,000 people and rounded up millions of men and children to mine for raw materials, especially rubber, and kept the women held hostage.  Those who did not meet monthly quotas were often killed or had limbs amputated. 

 

In one day alone, a Belgian soldier recalls a pile of almost 1,500 hands.   

 

During colonization under Leopold, it is estimated that over 10 million people died over a period of 25-40 years from a combination of living/working conditions, famine, and disease.  

 

And sadly, things never got that much better for the people of the Congo.  After the Belgians finally left and the Congo got its independence in 1960, the first elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, was fired and then murdered (perhaps with the complicity of U.S. and Europe due to his alleged Pro-Soviet sentiment).

 

For three decades after, Congo was run by an authoritative government under Joseph-Désiré Mobutu for over thirty years, and in that period he was a symbolic African "strongman" who was corrupt and embezzled billions under his regime, while also allowing and aiding human rights violations and selling out his country's resources to multinational companies and western nations.  

 

Throughout this period, and even today, the country and many surrounding nations have been rife with civil war, displacement, poverty, child and female trafficking, and more atrocities. 

 

Throughout this entire period since the mid 1950's and lasting until today, over 5.5 million people have been estimated to be killing in the Congo alone, making it the most lethal conflict globally since War World II.  As a reminder, it was only a few decades before under King Leopold II of Belgium that over 10 million people were killed.  

 

The common denominator, and the reason that I went off on a tangential story about the history of the Congo, is that the story is a repeating one throughout the entire continent that has its roots touching as deep as the transatlantic slave trade over 400 years ago.  

 

Similar to slavery, it reeks of dehumanization at its worst and paternalism at its best.  

 

It's never-ending, reoccurring story of resource and labor exploitation that began when man first learned of his brutal ability to control others - with either bribery, intimidation, violence, and most importantly the threat of violence of loved ones.

 

So what's happening right now throughout Africa regarding the worst parts of big tech's supply line? 

 

 4.2) The Rise of Electronics Precious Mineral Coltan & the resulting exploitation, corruption, and violence

 

Sadly we return to the Congo - there are two rare minerals that all smart phones need and they are plentiful there, coltan and cobalt.  

 

Coltan is found in almost every type of electronics, ranging from laptops, smart phones, video cameras, game consoles, and more.  Over 80% of all Coltan in the world is found in the Congo.  

 

The enormous amount of money to be made in this rare resource has helped fuel and finance conflict for over two decades, and people are directly exploited by both domestic and neighboring militias as well as indirectly by multinational tech companies.  

 

The United Nations notes in its 2001 report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources in the congo that "The consequences of illegal exploitation has been twofold: (a)massive availability of financial resources for the Rwandan Patriotic Army, and the individual enrichment of top Ugandan military commanders and civilians; (b) the emergence of of illegal networks headed by either top military officers or businessmen."

 

Right now, the worst area is near the Uganda border, where some of the largest deposits of coltan are found.    

 

According to Boston University Professor "In the worst cases, people are digging minerals from the ground under threat of violence to themselves or their families, often under gunpoint, often using rape as a means of compliance.  

 

That doesn't even get into the conditions of how they work - often working barefoot, standing many hours a day in standing water, and it doesn't matter whether a woman is pregnant, people are sick, or if a child is 5 or 6 years old."

 

4.3) The Congo Today - better, but many Underlying Problems Persist

 

The somewhat good news of this story is that today, Congo is more comparatively peaceful than it has been in the last couple of decades.  

 

But how do we finally end the human and labor exploitation in the Congo and Africa, especially due to rare metals/minerals used in electronics produced by multinationals with little global accountability? 

 

 

5) Ending Exploitation Once and For All in The Congo 

How do we prevent the NEXT developing country that discovers a new resource or  one that is suddenly more valuable?

 

There is no easy answer here, but there are certainly a few reoccurring themes and ideas that can help.

 

5.1) Circular Economy for Electronics (especially smartphones): 

To say we are advocates of a globalized, circular economy would be an understatement.  In fact, it's the ONLY way we can continue to do business (relatively as usual) and not destroy the planet any further in the process. 

 

Here's what it would look like for your electronics:  Smartphones and all electronics are actually MADE to last.

The majority of updates would be software, not hardware. A phone would last at least five years, and ideally ten or more.  The shift to cloud computing would also necessitate less actual storage capacity on the device itself.

 

Additionally, you might "lease" a smartphone rather than buy it.  Similar to a car, a smartphone and any electronic is a depreciating asset (unless it's a collectible or antique), so make more sense to lease anyway from a financial and environmental perspective.  

 

5.2) Regulation of EVERY aspect of a multi-national company's supply chain:

This may be harder to regulate, as one smartphone will have components from over 200 suppliers.  However, it is quite possible today to see EXACTLY where most raw materials are being mined and can be tested precisely, similarly, it's also possible to monitor each factory and plant for human rights abuses, even if it's an indirect supplier. 

 

Not easy, but fortunately, given that these are all multi-billion companies and tech profits are sky-high, it's safe to say they can afford it : )

 

5.3) You MUST Return OLD smartphone or OLD electronics in order to buy a new one (or pay a huge cost of $200+ more)

 

This is another important aspect that will ensure longevity of electronics and also proper disposal of old electronics.  It's also a stepping stone to a circular economy for big tech and all electronics.  As of now, the second market for E-waste is huge and another avenue for worker and child exploitation, in addition to terribly poisonous and carbon emitting fumes that burn both your face and lungs just to be in the vicinity.

 

Additionally, companies would also be able to recycle many of the raw materials which will necessitate less mining in poor areas, and ultimately reduce suffering.  

 

5.4) Spread Awareness of Coltan and other conflict minerals, pressure Big Tech!

As individuals, we must do more and always spread awareness, and pressure big companies to do more.  We must force companies to act and create a fully transparent supply chain at all levels, both direct and indirect.

 

Another option is obvious and goes in line with a circular economy -  buy less electronics! And if you do buy new, make sure you disposing of old electronics properly!

 

Hey, while you're at it - don't buy any sh*t you don't need!

 

 5.5) True Sovereignty, True Unity, True Democracy, True Economic Independence of the Congolese People and The Continent As A Whole

 

With its natural resources such as precious and non-precious metals, minerals, rubber, diamonds as well as a plethora of biodiversity of plants and animals, the Congo and Africa as a whole, should be amongst the world's wealthiest regions.  

 

Yet we see the exact opposite - why?  

 

Going back to the days of of European colonialism, the peoples of Africa were intentionally divided tribally to prevent unification.  Africa still lives, in varying degrees, with this legacy of tribal and regional conflict.  

 

I saved this one for last, because I really don't have an answer as to "how." 

If I learned anything from the history of this region, or in some ways similarly, to a century of history of American interventionism, it is the outsider's "paternalism" and the westerner's forcing their version of democracy that have long helped fuel and exacerbate so many of these crises, whether they be in Africa, the Middle East, or Asia.  

 

Perhaps some truth can be found in the some of the underlying causes for conflict, war and other long lasting crises in the region, such as western imperialism and interventionism coupled with a lack of unified or stable  government - financial  instability, nepotism, greed, bribery and corruption. 

 

When you study history and look through countries that that have been able to overcome decades of oppression, both externally and internally (such as India or China), have done so with a central base of unity and collective identity .  

 

The unity cannot come from one person ( or just the support of a small group) because any person can be bribed, corrupted or incompetent... worse an honest politician can be threatened or killed.  

 

A unified people, with a unified vision, and a unified government that actually works the interests of its own people and is as self sufficient economically as possible - this is a winning recipe historically. 

 

 

6) Conclusion:

How to get there? Well, that's up to the people of the Congo and Africa.  

 

But with over 90 million in the Congo and ample natural resources, biodiversity, and land - the rise of a unified and prosperous Congo echoes the potential of the continent as a whole.  Africa is within reach to be one of the last great stories of globalization, middle class entrance, and exit out of abject poverty that has yet to be fully written.

 

Hopefully, we will see the best saved for last. The least we can be do is be conscious and spread awareness about these issues, be conscious of our spending behaviors (and change them when necessary), try to minimize constant buying of new electronics and dispose of them properly if necessary, and demand change and accountability from tech companies and the governmental agencies that regulate them.

 

7) Sources: 

https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/AFR6207722019ENGLISH.PDF

https://www.economist.com/briefing/2018/02/15/congos-war-was-bloody-it-may-be-about-to-start-again

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13286306

https://chinapower.csis.org/china-middle-class/ 

https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/technology/global-supply-chain-mobile-phone 

https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/global_20170228_global-middle-class.pdf 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobutu_Sese_Seko

http://congofriends.blogspot.com/2018/02/the-resistance-grows-assassination-of.html

https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/companies/data-story-it-takes-hundreds-of-dollars-to-buy-an-iphone-but-just-over-a-dollar-to-make-one-2365065.html

https://web.mit.edu/12.000/www/m2016/pdf/coltan.pdf

https://laquilaactive.com/blogs/news/a-circular-economy-for-plastics-it-s-time-to-redesign-our-thinking?_pos=1&_sid=00b843939&_ss=r

https://www.wired.com/story/international-electronic-waste-photographs/

 

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