According to national surveys, about 85.8 million Americans have iPhones. One element that is essential in the battery of every iPhone is Cobalt. A reporter from The Guardian recently visited the place where 60 percent of all Cobalt is exported, in the south of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He interviewed a 15-year-old girl, hunched over and digging up Cobalt among toxic chemical fumes, her two-month-old son in her arms. She is paid about 65 cents per day. All over the DRC tens of thousands of adults and children risk their lives to mine this precious element for almost no pay. In Ghana, children are sold to cacao plantations and not allowed to leave or see their families for years. In the cotton fields of India, farmers are forced to use pesticides that poison their water, giving their children birth defects. These horrible situations are all currently taking place in the world. But what is often ignored is that these workers supply large brands and help make the products we use every day. These materials like cobalt, cacao, and cotton are used to create iPhones, candy, and major brand clothing. While we may feel outraged at hearing about these injustices, it doesn’t stop most Americans from buying from companies like Apple, H&M, or Hershey, all of which benefit from exploitative labor. While it may be argued that we, the average people, have no control over these systems, it doesn’t mean we should continue to support them. Consumers must be held accountable for actions like buying from abusive corporations.
American companies, as well as corporations from
It is still the companies’ responsibility to ensure that nothing they’re using in production has come from inhumane labor.
other places, use workers from third world nations such as Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and India for one reason only. Workers can be paid exponentially less than those in the corporation’s own country. This practice of outsourcing to poorer countries is extremely problematic because the workers have virtually no power to demand better conditions. If workers in one country protest or try to unionize, the company will simply leave and find another nation that will make the products for cheaper, leaving the original workers even worse off than before. These workers are often children. In fact, research from The Child Labor Coalition shows that about 152 million youth are victims of child labor. Even if workers are adults, they often work in hazardous conditions, are subjected to violence, and are paid no more than a few dollars each day.
This issue is complicated because companies are usually getting these goods from other distributors. In this chain of trade, the blame can get lost. But it is still the companies’ responsibility to ensure that nothing they’re using in production has come from inhumane labor, even if they themselves aren’t orchestrating it.
So many of the products we use have such grim origins, and it can be a lot easier to choose not to think about this rather than to stop buying. Not supporting these businesses doesn’t mean that you have to stop shopping completely and move to a little cabin in the woods where you grow your own food and weave your own clothes. But if we, the consumers, don’t make changes, these corporations will continue to profit, sending the message that what they’re doing is acceptable.
Consumers need to try to be informed on where items come from, and when you can, choose fair trade options or alternative products. It’s also always helpful to donate to organizations working to fight this greed and corruption. No one person can solve this problem, but we can all try our best to learn more about it and take action on the things that matter.