Saturday, January 8, 2011

Uncomfortable Truths--The Price of Our Electronic Gadgets Just Got Higher

Increasingly, it is apparent in our ecologically sensitive age that there are two prices for everything we buy--the price we pay in the store and the price we pay for the damage to the planet that is caused in the production of the product. There is a teachable opportunity here that could reinforce some hard to take lessons about the cruelty that sometimes provides the bedrock for the comfort and convenience our products provide us. Take the humble cell phone--most of us have no idea how they work and much less about what the materials are needed to manufacture them. Did you know the product includes the mineral, tantalum, which allows the phone to preserve its memory even when the battery dies. So here is what you need to know about tantalum--it is mined in the Congo under cruel conditions that finance rebel groups. According to Elizabeth Flock in the Washington Post"Over the past decade, more than 5 million people have died, and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in the struggle for power, according to the Raise Hope for Congo campaign. While the Congolese government has expressed interest in tackling the multimillion-dollar trade in minerals, the involvement of its own troops has led critics to question their efforts."

The Enough Campaign in the US has successfully lobbied for some actions--now the US has required in the recent Wall Street Reform bill for companies to disclose the origins of the minerals used in their products. 'The plan is that just naming and shaming will ratchet up the pressure, and in turn these companies will lean on the smelting operations that supply the minerals they use.' The state is too weak to control the outright criminality but we as consumers have a duty to find out what companies are doing about the problem. Only consumer awareness and threats of boycotts of those companies that are not moving fast enough to seek alternatives will be effective. The Raise Hope for Congo Campaign is a good start to get started. Consumers have the power to make the changes here as Margaret Bunting points out in her excellent column on the topic in The Guardian, the Congo situation is an instance "of how globalisation generates ungovernable spaces. Where there is a collision of desperate poverty, plentiful guns and a world greedy for natural resources, a brutal chaos results. To combat that, it takes a very tenacious sort of global campaigning – bringing to attention each element of the system and the part it can play in leveraging change – and mercifully, that is what is now finally starting to happen."

Lets hope but it all begins by becoming more globally aware of our lifestyle and its costs.

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