Africa. It is a continent that is rich in mineral resources. Sadly, it is also a continent that is well known for corrupt, greedy leaders that exploit their people for personal gain. China, for its part, is a country that is developing at an astounding rate. It is also a country that is well known for exploiting certain minorities within it as cheap forms of labour in order to produce many of the products the world consumes. It is brutal. And, as a country that is requiring more and more raw materials, it has recognised that Africa is, potentially, the solution to their insatiable need.
We, in the West, love our toys. We all want the latest technological marvels made by companies such as Apple and Tesla. However, we are blissfully ignorant of the price that some pay for the privilege we enjoy. Last night, I listened to a podcast where Joe Rogan interviewed a man by the name of Siddharth Kara, an expert in modern day slavery and an advocate for children who find themselves mining cobalt in Congo, a country in West Africa. As I listened, I experienced chills and a profound sense of shame as I realised how my wanting the next gadget was literally cutting short the lives of young people and robbing them of a future.
Cobalt, it turns out, is a rare earth mineral used in the production of batteries, the type used in electric vehicles and high-end cell phones. Families are recruited to mine this resource by hand, earning about $5 between them per day. It is literally work that kills them. Children are often caught in landslides and buried alive. These children should be in school but, because of the corrupt nature of their country and the abject poverty they find themselves in, they simply have no choice if they want to survive.
One has to bear in mind the toll that colonialism has taken on this part of the world. King Leopold II of Belgium was the previous leader to exploit these people in this way, and the Chinese have just stepped in where he and his people were expelled. Just as greedy. Just as brutal. And it is a stain on you and I who create the demand for the products made from these minerals that carry such a high cost to these people.
For the amount that these multinational companies earn in a day, they could solve this problem forever. If they paid the adult miners as little as $10 per day each, they could ensure that their children could escape the cycle of poverty that they found themselves in. The key lies in will. Will to recognise the humanity of these people, and the will to do the right thing by them. If one considers that, in the United States, where most of these products are sold, the average labourer earns as much as $25 per hour, it is easy to assume that these companies would, in fact, acccept slightly lower profits in the name of treating those who make those profits possible with a little dignity and compassion. Ultimately, we who are aware of the situation, can force these companies to do for these children what we take for granted by voting with our wallets. We could refuse to buy products that have not been certified as being free of exploitative labour practices in their production.
It brings to mind that famous song by David Bowie, "Heroes". We can, all, be heroes – just for one day.