With my feed reader overflowing with thousands of articles to sift through about modern slavery, I’ve recently turned to Twitter to find the stories that are moving others to speak out. The quote above came from a post cited by Chris Hogg in his twitter stream.
Slavery today, specifically child slavery, is being driven by the same motivation as it always has – profits. Coltan (Columbite-tantalite), it turns out, is ONLY in existence in the Eastern Congo and a small region of Tanzania. It doesn’t exist anywhere else. It is used in the production of capacitors.
Every day hundreds of thousands of Congolese child-slaves are forced to crawl into underground mines on their hands and knees to dig for the essential raw material make electronic gadgets like cell phones, iPods, laptop computers, play stations, wireless systems, DVD players, blackberries and pagers possible.
Clearly, I applaud the Dutch labour MP for his desire to see the end of child slave labor in the Congo. And there are alternatives to using the Coltan produced in Central Africa. Australia is also a major producer of Coltan and many electronics companies are now rejecting Coltan, opting to only purchase from legitimate sources. Unfortunately, I think real change will only come from finding an affordable alternative to Coltan. Thankfully, there is a movement to find alternatives to Coltan in capacitor production, including Niobium, multilayer ceramic capacitors and aluminum-polymer capacitors. I have no idea how long these methods will take to make their way into production or what their viability is.
In the meantime, children in the Congo are being abused daily to feed our addiction to ever cheaper technology. The Dutch petition was sent to all of the major multinational firms that produce cell phones. Let’s hope they act.