Rumors swirling the debut of the iPhone 5 have been circulating for the past several months and as a current iPhone user, I am tempted, like most others, to get my hands on one.  Smartphones, particularly the iPhone have become an aspect of everyday life for many in America.  But at what cost? In recent reports and some articles published by AP and the likes, reveal that there are many costs that come with the iPhone. 

The problem starts with minerals.  In order to make your smartphone to work as seamlessly as we all love, they are manufactured with three basic minerals: tin, tantulum, and tungsten. This sounds normal, but here’s the kicker. Those minerals are often mined in the conflict ridden Democratic Republic of Congo. Serious labor and human rights violations are occurring in order to mine these minerals, including civil war and flat out murder.

But unfortunately in the life of the iPhone the violations dont’ stop there.  Apple has recently been accused of terrible labor issues surrounding the manufacturing of their products including computers, iPads, and iPhones. Some of these issues include overworked employees, suicide of employees, and even child labor. 

Those things alone are enough to make the consumer ill, but on top of labor issues, smartphones are made with materials that are far less than environmentally friendly.  Recent reports have come out showing Apple factories release harmful toxins into water, soil, and the air we breathe, not to mention all the plastic that is used to create the phones in the first place.

And just when you think you can’t handle the guilt anymore, Grist recently ran an article about an iPhone game that “will make you ashamed of your iPhone.”  The game features four main levels: mining materials in the Congo, including mistreating workers and adding to civil war, saving possible suicide victims at manufacturing plants in China, drumming up excitement among consumers, and throwing out the iPhone and adding to wastefulness. Check out a preview for this game below.

Don’t think we’ve singled out the iPhone alone. All brands smartphones and other electronics used mined minerals from the Congo and many have similar labor and environmental issues in the manufacturing process. So what is the answer? Well, obviously giving up the convenience of said electronics would eliminate all these violations in the supply chain.  But in our modern world, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. One step is to use your current model as long as possible, do you really need to upgrade to the iPhone 5 just because Apple said it is better? Another way to go would be to purchase used and refurbished phones, thus saving them from landfills and not adding to new manufacturing. Lastly, be sure to recycle your phone when it is finally ready to upgrade.

So to answer our opening question, yes we all should be ashamed of our iPhones. And the only way to change it, is to let Apple and other smartphone manufactures we won’t stand for it! Write them today and stop purchasing their brand new items!

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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