Human Rights


Imagine sitting around the dinner table with your family. You are laughing, and sharing the day’s events. You help yourself to a serving of mashed potatoes. You descend back into a comfortable sitting position and pick up your fork. Just as the cold steel of the fork touches your mouth, the door slams open and a wave of armed men enter the dining room. Their presence alone is startling, and has frightened you and the rest of your family into a position of powerlessness. They tell you your living room is now the site for a cattle-farm and that although, one day you may resume the meal together, today is not that day.

This scenario is not my first choice for a daydream, but parallel circumstances have been a harsh reality for people, all over the world.

Years of abuse and overproduction of the Earth’s resources has contributed to global climate change, the displacement of indigenous people and wildlife, and has triggered a humanitarian panic to amend our industrial indiscretions.

The Amazon Rainforest often referred to as “the lungs of our planet,” has graciously provided the vital service of recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen, among other things, and has demanded nothing in return.

We are civilized people. No well-mannered men would accept a gift of such generous implications without the returned expression of appreciation. As a token of our humble thanks, this is what we offered the Rainforest:

Since 1970, we have destroyed over 600,000 square kilometers of the Amazon Rainforest and displaced or killed countless amounts of indigenous wildlife and people in the process.

Why?

Cheeseburgers, furniture, oil, and pharmaceuticals.

And now, in the wake of the new climate change resolution trend, it seem our destruction of billions of acres of rainforest is no longer a sufficient offering. In this new era of environmental responsibility, action has just begun for the reconciliation of our misdeeds. Unfortunately, many of the resolutions in effect come with the same cost for the indigenous life.

Deforestation contributes nearly 20% of the total global carbon emissions. We have been taught to equate carbon emissions with global warming, and global warming with a man-caused process that must be stopped, for the sake of our planet.

In a nutshell: by clearing out billions of acres of rainforest for the timber industries, cattle farming, oil, soybean, and paper industries, we have caused irreparable damage to the planet and the life indigenous to the rainforest. Now it is a race to right the wrongs of the human race, and where there is a demand, there is possibility for economic gain. Ironically and tragically, the indigenous people and wildlife who have forcibly suffered in the name of economic gain are once again being made to bare the burden, only this time it is under the guise of going green.

REDD, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, is a United Nations collaborative program. According to their website:

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development. “REDD+” goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.”

This simply means that governments, companies or forest owners in the South would be paid for keeping forests standing instead of cutting them down. The main system of finance behind REDD is the carbon-market system. According the Indigenous Environmental Network:

Carbon Markets buy and sell permits to pollute called ‘allowances’ and ‘carbon credits.’ Carbon markets have two parts: emissions trading (also called ‘cap and trade’) and offsets. They are false solutions to climate change because they do not bring about the changes needed to keep fossil fuels in the ground. They claim to solve the climate crisis but really allow polluters to buy their way out of reducing their emissions. These multi-billion dollar trading mechanisms privatize and commodify the earth’s ability to keep its atmosphere balanced. The International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change opposes carbon markets.”

It is no surprise that even the implementation of a socially responsible system is designed for a few key players to make a very large profit. Reuters, an international news agency, reported that an Interpol environmental crime official warned that organized crime syndicates are eyeing the REDD forest carbon credit industry as a potentially lucrative new opportunity for fraud, at a conference in Indonesia. Exploitation was and is inevitable, but what does it mean for the people? Aside from marginalized financial gain, will REDD be a solution to the displacement of indigenous life?

I wish I could say yes.

Previous conservation efforts such as: Dumoga-Bone National Park in Sulawesi, Indonesia and Korup National Park in Cameroon have taught us that the indigenous people often lose more access to their land, and are stripped of their freedoms as governments and corporations implement strict regulations and guidelines, in order to uphold their new systems.

So who do we support?  We are constantly being told to go green and we want to do the right thing. We believe in making a difference in our environment and our world, but at what cost? On the other hand, were told not to trust big corporations; the driving forces behind much of these issues. And why should we?

What should we do?
Who can we believe?

The International Conference on indigenous people’s rights, alternatives and solutions to the climate crisis was held November 4-9 2010. in the Philippines. The conference was organized by the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, Land is Life, IBON International, Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network and the People’s Movement on Climate Change.

In their declaration of solidarity, this was said:

We believe that the root cause of the enormous problems we face today is the neoliberal global capitalist system, which puts profits before people and the planet. Central to this system is the expropriation and control of resources by multinational corporations, and dispossession and marginalization of small producers, workers, peasants, women and indigenous peoples.

It is true of the indigenous people of the rainforest, and it is true of you and me. Money is more valuable, globally, than human life. By no means am I suggesting that we fight capitalism or take a political stance one way or the other, but what I am promoting is the value of life above all.

Advocate for the indigenous people of the rainforest. If you have the opportunity to buy goods from a small local company that sells environmentally friendly and fair trade products, give them your money instead of circulating it back into the industries that wreak havoc on humanity.

Most importantly, be informed. Know where your financial support ends up, and what you can do to ensure the quality of life for others, that you get to enjoy yourself.

-Jaclyn Bauman

You may know them as the “cougar and cub” couple or from their many films such as “The Butterfly Effect” or Ghost, but there is so much more to Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore.  We have discussed many different celebrities that have done a variety of things to help our world, but here is a power couple that is doing the same.  This duo has been trying their hardest to educate the world on human trafficking and how to stop it. After meeting and talking with a girl who was trafficked in the United States, Ashton and Demi decided to take action and created the DNA Foundation.

This foundation was created by Ashton and Demi to raise awareness about sex slavery. They believe it is in our DNA, and a basic human right to be free. The global market for sex slavery generates more than $32 billion in revenue each year and about 2 million children are subject to it. There are between 100,000 to 300,000 children in the U.S. alone that are enslaved and sold for sex. DNA believes in spreading the knowledge about the issue and forcing slavery out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

One of the campaigns that Ashton and Demi have created is the “Real Men” advertisements. These are to promote that real men don’t buy girls. The ads will relate men to different situations and promote that “real men don’t buy girls” all while starring A-list celebrities such as Justin Timberlake and Eva Longoria.  Ashton and Demi were receiving some heat from these ads because of the generalization that it is men. Men may not be the only ones involved in the crime, but it is a real issue and if people didn’t buy women, men, and children for sex, than it wouldn’t be a $32 million dollar industry.

Sex trafficking is a serious problem all over the world; however, there aren’t too many people who are aware of the degree of the situation. The truth is that the average age of entry into this industry is thirteen. I think this fact alone is enough to make someone listen. Sex trafficking is the modern day slavery and can be induced by force, fraud, or coercion.

Victims of sex trafficking can be affected psychologically as well as physically.  It can be traumatizing to any person, but especially a young child. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 made the horrendous act a violation against the Federal Law, however the problem still persists.  Victims can face various health issues such as addiction, physical injuries, or diseases. Any and all affects of sex trafficking can have a lifetime, traumatizing affect which no one should have endure.

Handcuff Necklace via GoodMenProject

In order to help raise money for the DNA foundation, Ashton and Demi created a line of handcuff motif necklaces. They worked with the renowned jeweler Jack Vartanian to create the line. The couple hopes the handcuffs will serve as a symbol and will help create more awareness for the child sex slave industry and human trafficking. The pieces are available in white, yellow, and rose gold, as well as black or white diamonds. Although the prices are a bit expensive, the necklaces serve more importance than just a fine piece of jewelry or gift, they represent freedom to men, women, and children all over the world.  In case the necklace is a little too pricey for you, the DNA Foundation also takes any size donations as well as selling cute and hip tees.

We applaud Demi and Ashton for using their star power to the issue of sex slavery. Unfortunately, with all the issues plaguing our world, human trafficking is often overlooked. To learn more about human trafficking check out Not For Sale and the DNA Foundation.  And to learn more about the power couple’s work, watch this video of Demi and Ashton on CNN.

-Lauren Bowler

About a year ago to the day, the AP blog posted an article concerning California farmworkers and the hellish conditions in which they are made to work.  The very fact that the body of the population is largely composed of migrant and/or immigrant labor, including many who do not speak English and are undocumented, means it is at a supreme disadvantage when attempting to establish the right to a safe working environment, as a whole or individually.  There is little these people can do, and the neglect they suffer can at times lead to a tragic death.

Such was the case in 2008 with Maria Isavel Vasquez Jimenez, a 17-year-old woman, two months pregnant, who was made to prune grapes in San Joaquin County for nine hours in triple-digit heat without adequate shade, water or rest breaks.

A few weeks ago, Maria De Los Angeles Colunga and Elias Armenta, the two farm supervisors most-directly responsible for this gross abuse of labor decency and originally charged with involuntary manslaughter, reached a softened plea bargain.  Colunga was sentenced to 40 hours of community service, three years of probation and a fine of $370, and Armenta to 480 hours of community service, five years of probation and a $1,000 fine.  Both were also banned from engaging in farm worker contracting.

Some might argue this outcome to be bittersweet, but easy on the sugar.  While this prosecution is a small but progressive step toward justice in an industry that, until recently, was left to set it’s own rules and labor standards with miniscule regulation or consequence, common sense suggests that the death of this young woman and her unborn child in such an environment would call for much harsher punishment, including serious jail time, something that might scare other labor companies into doing right by their workforce.  Hopefully such changes won’t require more innocent deaths.
You can read more about this issue here, and review last year’s AP farm labor article hereStay informed and stay active!
-Jeremy Pearson

For their senior project, five teams at the University of Maine created tricycles for landmine victims in Mozambique. These 27 students were part of the Mechanical Engineering Technology program and had to complete their Capstone senior project as one of their last assignments. The year-long project was directed by professor Herb Crosby in conjunction with Coreplan CEO Kim Keeley and Landmine Victim Mobility Vehicle Project. It was not only an educational and fun experience for the students, but it helped hundreds of landmine victims as well.

This South African country has been devastated by years of civil war. Although they are finally at peace, there is still an estimated 3 million landmines scattered across the land, causing an unsettling environment. Innocent people continually fall victim to these landmines and suffer injuries including the loss of limbs. Because of its impoverished state many of the innocent victims can not afford prosthetic limbs. Between that and the unpaved and poor conditions of the roads, transportation is a nightmare for injured parties. Normal wheelchairs are not ideal for the terrain of Mozambique which is why Keeley is working with the University of Maine to create a tricycle for better means of transportation.

Red Team Tricycle

The South African insurance company, Core Plan International, backed the competition. With their support and help the winning design would be patented and produced for the people of Mozambique. CEO, Kim Keeley decided that the final design will probably incorporate different aspects of each team’s prototype.

Each five to six person team had to create a prototype of a hand powered tricycle wheelchair for the landmine victims. At the end of their six month journey, each team presented their design on Maine Day. This is a day that all faculty and students have off in order to clean up the campus and participate in community service events. What a perfect time to show off some coolly designed tricycles while cruising around campus.

Green Team Tricycle

Each team had different ideas of what would be the most cost efficient and the most ideal to ride in. Some of the specific qualifications the product had to have were: accessible to double amputee, effective breaking, easy steering, stable on hilly and uneven terrain, under $200 to create, and able to carry 5 gallon pail of cargo. While the Green team chose to use bamboo with the cargo area in the front, other teams used metals with the cargo in the back.

The MET students really enjoyed themselves while working on this project. Even though the Blue Team officially won (see the video below), all the designs were terrific and everyone involved truly won. Many of them felt that it was the cherry to their ice cream because they were able to use every skill they had learned throughout the year collectively in one project, as well as directly impacting a population in need. It definitely put their education to the test, but the outcome was extraordinary and exponentially beneficial.

-Lauren Bowler


The Oscar countdown has begun! This Sunday, Hollywood will be a buzz with Oscar fever as the Academy Awards will begin in the afternoon. There are a lot of great films nominated this year and as we have done in the past, we want to highlight a few of the environmentally friendly messaged movies.

Unfortunately, this year has a bit of slim pickings. Over the past few years, there have been fictional feature films with deep environmental messages nominated including Wall-E and Avatar. However, this year the only truly Green films are documentaries. While documentaries are very interesting and entertaining, they are not the most popular art form and will not have the greatest impact. Still, they should be honored for their work.

Two films really stand out this year and they include Gasland and Waste land. Gasland is the story of one man’s investigation into the hydraulic drilling called “fracking” done by natural gas companies such as Haliburton. In the film he uncovers contamination and government deceit, even finding a town where they can light their drinking water on fire. The film is a great expose on natural gas extraction. Often we are focused on the dangers of oil, while not paying attention to other energy sources which are extremly harmful to the environment as well as our health.

Waste Land is a heart wrenching story of the largest landfill on Earth in Rio de Janeiro. It focuses on the lives and poor working conditions of  garbage workers, as well as the story of modern artist Vik Muniz. Muniz creates art from the garbage pickers and gives them money from the profits. He also works to gain recognition and better living conditions for the workers. The film is a beautiful story of excess, trash, art, human connection, and human rights. This is definitely worth a view!

Even if no feature film focused on the environment, we are crossing our fingers that either Waste Land or Gasland are recognized as winning films. Check out the trailers for both films above and let’s hope the Academy honors one of these “land” films. Pun intended.

 

It has recently come to my attention that organizations such as the Weeden Foundation are attempting to garner support for the anti-immigration movement by utilizing a contrived connection between illegal immigrants in the United States and an increase in pollution. The “logic” behind this suggests that when illegal immigrants cross into the U.S they adopt a more Americanized lifestyle and therefore tend to pollute more than if they stayed in their countries of birth and live in poverty.

Impoverished people tend to pollute less, so let’s keep ‘em that way”–fake slogan of groups suggesting connection between illegal immigration and environmental catastrophes.

The culprit is not illegal immigrants as these groups are implying, but American society and the way in which it functions. We are taught from an early age in the United States that consuming products we do not need is not only a luxury to be indulged in once in a while, but an ideology to live our day-to-day lives by. Bigger and better have become almost interchangeable in the American lexicon.

Green washing a human rights issue is not acceptable. You can not argue that immigrants, legal or otherwise, are of concern because of  their being a detriment  to the environment, if that logic were acceptable one could argue that abortions are eco-friendly because they keep the world’s population down, (before anyone gets in a tizzy, I am simply using that as an example of the irrelevance of connecting two unrelated issues in order to gather support for your movement of choice.)

Suggesting that the opposition to illegal immigration is an issue born out of a need to achieve environmental friendliness seems to be a thinly veiled attempt to allure to the more left-minded members of society to support this particular movement. This thinking ignores the fact that the eco-friendly movement is one the encompasses a compassion for the human rights of all people. While illegal immigration is a complicated issue that must be addressed in some capacity, suggesting that families seeking a slice of the American dream are a detriment to the environment as a means to convince people that immigration should be done away with is unfair, heavy-handed and unnecessary.

We need to take a long, hard look at the American dream and revise its antiquated definition. As a society we owe it to ourselves, mother Earth and any future citizens of our country, to no longer glamorize the idea that living in an inconvenient suburb where one has to drive to the nearest drive through to obtain their flash fried supper to return home to their oversized mc-mansion is the idea lifestyle. A more eco-friendly version of this dream–think more bicycles and less Hummers– is one we need to cultivate if we are to continue to thrive not only a country but as healthy planet.

It is hypocritical to sit around and judge immigrants from the seats of our gas guzzling SUVS; thinking that we as Americans have the to use and abuse the environment and that nobody else does is down right repulsive.

Hey, only U.S citizens have the right to litter and eat puppies…if everyone else does not do it, then we are golden!”–Some sick guy who eats puppies while littering. (What a turd.)

As a nation of legal citizens we need to stop being so turd-like ourselves and start focusing on the real issues that we as one of the top polluting nations on this glorious planet of Earth are causing by our over indulgent way of life.

In the age-old notion of whoever smelt it dealt it, we are the ones sniffing out the problem and trying to lay blame on the innocent guy standing next to us.

Not cool, anti-immigration movement. Not cool at all.

-Meghan Hurley

Perhaps not so far from the truth.

On August 19th, the Community Farm Workers Alliance NYC, allied with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida, organized a protest in front of the new Trader Joe’s store in New York City’s Chelsea Neighborhood.  Their goal was to educate shoppers about the extreme and unconscionable abuses farm workers are enduring in their region; Florida tops the nation in the amount of fresh-market tomatoes produced.

Chelsea Now, a local neighborhood publication, was on hand to survey the seen and speak with some of the CIW staff members present.  One of them, Julia Perkins, related some horrifying incidents illustrating how brutal certain farm labor employers can be.  In 2008, two employers were sentenced to 12 years in jail for forcing laborers to sleep in locked trucks overnight, binding their wrists in chains. Perkins explained, “They would close the truck and lock them in overnight with no ventilation, no light and no bathroom facilities —workers were forced to use the corner of the truck. They deducted $5 from their paycheck to wash off with a garden hose out back, and food is deducted as well. It’s horrendous.

This brand of exploitation – the subjugation of workers and their rights to the point of mirroring traditional slavery practices – is executed by those who own and operate farms, but it is important to understand that such crimes are allowed to continue because those who purchase tomatoes in high volume – restaurant chains and grocery chains – either aren’t aware or turn a blind eye. When those buyers choose to begin selecting produce grown with higher labor standards, growers’ profits are threatened unless more humane changes are made.  In effect, the restaurant or supermarket wields the financial power and thus can control, or “own,” the industry standards and the people involved in production.

Here’s where Trader Joe’s comes in.

Through persistent action the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has come to agreements with some of the nation’s largest food companies; as Chelsea Now reports, they include “Taco Bell and its parent company, Yum Brands, the world’s largest restaurant multinational; Burger King; McDonald’s; Subway; Whole Foods; and the food service companies Bon Appétit Management Company, Aramark and Compass Group.”  This impressive corporate lineup has agreed to pay slightly higher prices for tomatoes, potentially doubling workers’ daily income.  Although not a revolution in farm labor standards, it’s certainly a start.  However, Trader Joe’s has so far been unwilling to sign an agreement to help stop the exploitation of workers that pick the tomatoes that appear on their shelves. According to a CIW flyer, “farm workers picking tomatoes for Trader Joe’s chain of supermarkets earn 40-50 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they harvest.”  Such a sorrowful total can only amount to impoverished living standards, and Trader Joe’s seems unwilling to share any information on their produce sources.  Only after repeated questioning did the company’s publicist, Alison Mochizuki, respond to Chelsea Now in an email with this message: “At Trader Joe’s, we work with reputable suppliers that have a strong record of providing safe and healthy work environments and we will continue to make certain that our vendors are meeting if not exceeding government standards throughout all aspects of their businesses.

Perhaps it is a bit confusing to find such a canned, sterile and seemingly contradictory response from a company that projects an image of environmental and social responsibility, producing all-natural and organic foods and providing competitive wage and benefits packages for their own employees.  Even more confusing is their refusal to meet the CIW in their quest for justice, choosing instead to endure public criticism of their core values while placing their reputation in jeopardy.  Why would the apparently progressive Trader Joe’s assume a removed and guarded position on this crucial issue when the more conventional food companies listed above chose to yield to the voices of the people in need of human rights?  Right now only guesses can be made, and until Trader Joe’s heeds this call for change, thousands of poor people living inhuman lives will continue to rise each morning and pick their tomatoes.

-Jeremy Pearson

For the past  month, the 2010 World Cup  has had sports  fans worldwide whipped into a frenzied state of obsession that is commonly known as World cup fever. This affliction sees football fans* unable to concentrate on work while their team of choice is battling it out in South Africa; somehow tolerating the obnoxious bee-like sound that a symphony of vuvuzelas in the stand produces; and accepting daytime- occasionally even morning- drinking, as rabid fans make their ways to various watering holes to see this popular sport played live half way across the world.

After Sunday’s final game between the Netherlands and Spain fans will either feel the agonizing disappointment of defeat or the absolute elation of being a champion.  Monday morning offices across the globe will likely see an increase of productivity, the sound of swarming bees will again illicit an appropriate amount of fear in individuals, and drinking before noon will again only be practiced by professional winos and eaters of brunch.

As it stands, the greenest thing about football–or most sports for that matter–is the fields on which they are played. Big corporate sponsorships, by companies such as Nike and Adidas, see this beloved game and many other professional sports being played with less than eco-friendly gear and balls. These big name companies may have catchy slogans and million dollar ad campaigns that frequently air during the World Cup, but each has a scandalous history of  human rights violations- each taking of advantage of  cheap sweatshop labor frequently–allegedly even currently.

Once the World Cup fever breaks, and you start to feel withdrawals for the World’s favorite sport, you may get a hankering to kick a ball of your own up and down a grassy field this summer. Unlike these big shot professional sport organizations, you can approach your purchases from a standpoint of compassion. When it comes to big named brands, ignore the commercials that have been pumped into your eyes and ears throughout this World Cup– just don’t do it. Get your soccer–er, I mean football gear from companies such as  this amazing company, Fair Trade Sports. Their products are not only Fair Trade certified, but they are all vegan and eco-friendy! As if this were not impressive enough, this company generously donates their after -tax profits to an array of  children’s charities!

Now that’s a spicy football!

Even if you never make a goal, you can take pride in knowing that your gear is not only eco-friendly, but human kind friendly. You may not be a sports star, but you are a super star of compassion- so go ahead, have a good morning drink, you’ve earned it.

* “Soccer fans” to those of us in the United States–football here involves more tackling and confusingly, much less contact between ball and foot.

-Meghan Hurley

World Cup Fever is spreading fast throughout the planet, as we get closer to the next stage. Even though the world is celebrating and enjoying this tournament, there is a dark side that few are talking about. For over a year, there has been labor issues plaguing the cup in an economically struggling nation. Many South Africans have questioned their government’s lavish spending on “improvements” such as brand new stadiums, new hotels, and a new transit system. Although, seemingly nice upgrades, the people are disappointed millions have been spent on stadiums which will be used for one month, while 40% of South Africans live on just $2 a day.

On top of this issue, the people working the World Cup and making sure the tourists and football lovers are taken care of, are not being paid as promised. In particular the security guards and stewards. At the culmination of Sunday’s match between Australia and Germany, already an exciting game, hundreds marched into the streets of Durban to demand pay. Apparently, the security staff was promised 500 South African Rand ($65) to work the match, but only received 205 Rand ($26). Obviously, a huge difference and would upset anyone! One of the protesters discussed how much they have been working for so little:

We started at 12 noon and worked until midnight, and they want to give us 205 rand($26). Different things have been said to people, but we were promised 1,500 rand per day. We started to protest because we wanted to negotiate.

The protests may have begun as a negotiation, but Durban police were quickly called to break them up. No injuries or arrests have been reported, however, the strategy has spread to several stadiums in the many cities including: Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Johannesburg. More and more workers are going on strike, including 700 guards at the end of the North Korea and Brazil match. Many feel this is completely unfair and no “trickle down” is occurring in the country. Corporations and the government are making millions from the games, yet the workers on the ground are being paid so little.

Not surprisingly, the issue is trying to be kept quiet and FIFA, the organization responsible for directing the World Cup, refuses to comment. This is obviously an “embarrassment” to FIFA and would much better be brushed under a rug, than dealt with fairly. In fact, the chief executive of the local organizing committee for the cup stated, “This is an employer/employee wage dispute. Although we have respect for workers’ rights, we find it unacceptable for them to disrupt match-day proceedings and will not hesitate to take action in such instances.” This sort of attitude could be detrimental to the employees affected by this dispute.

Personally, I love the World Cup more than I can write into words, but when I read stories like this, it makes me sad.  It seems both FIFA and the South African government, as well as the companies profiting off the games, aren’t thinking with the people in mind. Making it worse, they want it kept quiet, so tourists, players, and the world media won’t notice their dirty little secret. Now, I am not calling for a boycott of the games (I don’t think I could do that to my heart), but try to keep the hard workers and their struggles in mind while watching the matches. And if you are really feeling empowered, contact FIFA and tell them just how you feel.

-Gina Williams

When the first decade of the new millennium came and went, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by personal electronics, a modern-day necessity. Chances are, the first thing you look at in the morning is your BlackBerry, iPhone, or other Smartphone. Then, you probably take your iPod out for a morning jog or connect it inside your vehicle for the commute into work. Perhaps you have an iPad, Nook, or Kindle you use on the subway on the commute to catch up on the day’s local, national, and international news. You have not had lunch yet, but you have used a myriad of personal electronics by noon. Whether we like it or not, electronics have become an essential part of our lives. However, many of us know little about the origins of our handheld havens.

Tin, tantulum, and tungsten are metals found around the globe, which give life to our digital cameras, personal computers, cellular phones, and other electronics. A large percentage of these metals are mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). What major electronics companies like Apple, Research in Motion (RIM – makers of the BlackBerry), Nokia, Dell, and Motorola don’t tell you is that an estimated 50,000 children work in the Katanga Mine in DRC. Children make up about 1/3 of the entire mining workforce in DRC. Despite the rising value in metal, miners do not receive any raises and most cannot afford to live off the small wage they already earn. Furthermore, the lack of regulation from the DRC government on safety regulations within the mines results in extremely dangerous work environments. In addition, the privatization of mines on the African continent has displaced tens of thousands of people forcing them to leave their homelands.

Why hasn’t the DRC government or electronic companies stepped in to end the human rights abuses, displacement issues, and safety hazards? For 10 years, the DRC has struggled with a civil war. Rebel groups sell to middlemen who pass the metals onto companies like Apple giving them the funds needed to purchase weapons and other war necessities. Because the electronics companies purchase the metals from middlemen, they have no direct ties to an unethical mine. According to Amnesty International, global brands state they are being ethical by purchasing metals from licensed exporters. However, the exporters’ middlemen are known to purchase the metals from rebel groups.

You may be asking yourself how the U.S. government doesn’t hold electronics companies responsible for their supply chains, especially when virtually every American uses an electronic device everyday. Bills have been established, however, they will not be going to a vote anytime soon. Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Russ Feingold (D-WI) initiated talks about the Congo Conflict Minerals Act. This would force electronics makers to publicly release which mines in DRC are used in their electronics. Therefore, consumers would know what mines the metals are coming from. The second bill introduced is the Extractive Industries Transparency Disclosure Act. This bill would force all SEC-listed companies’ financial statements to contain details concerning how much money is paid out to foreign governments for oil, gas, and minerals. Companies’ reputations would increase by actively and openly sharing this information to consumers.

You can take part in the initiatives these bills support. Both bills have not been discussed or touched for over a year according to govtrack.us, a website you can use to view the status of a bill as it travels through Congress. Write and call your local Senators and Representatives and push forward these bills. Better yet, write to your favorite electronics maker. I, myself, could never go a day without my BlackBerry Curve or Macbook Pro. Rest assured, I will drop both RIM and Apple a line about my concern for the origins of the products I use everyday. As Americans, we are huge consumers in today’s modern world. It is only right for us to give thought to where our products come from. Tomorrow night, when you are watching the NBA finals on your fabulous plasma television or streaming it live from your personal computer, take a moment to remember those abroad who have sacrificed their lives and well-being for ours.

-Derek Rogers

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