Well ladies and gentlemen, it is one o clock in the morning, and I had to break up a bar fight at my job a few hours ago. Its been that kind of night. Let's commence, shall we?
In light of all this ridiculous iPhone mania sweeping the nation like the cosmic claw of Cthulhu across an unsuspecting steam ship, I decided that there are a few facts regarding the general production of cell phones, including the harvesting of raw materials and the like, that you should know, should you take it upon yourself to be swept up in the iCraze. Y'know...just in case you didn't already feel guilty enough about anything else.
The production of cell phones is dependent upon the harvesting of two essential materials: coltan and niobium. The former is found in three billion-year-old soils such as those found in the Rift Valley region of Africa (you can see where this is going, can you not?). Extracted from the coltan is a substance called tantalum, used to manufacture tantalum capacitors, which are in effect tiny devices that maintain the flow of current in electronic devices--such as cell phones and iPods.
Turns out that 80% of these coltan deposits are found in the Democractic Republic of the Congo (a misnomer if there ever was one), with niobium yielding similar stats.
Now this is where it gets interesting. Thanks to the techie explosion of the 1990s, the price of coltan ballooned to $300 per pound. By 1996, Rwandan and Ugandan forces, sponsored by--ding ding ding!--the United States had moved into the highest-yield mining regions and taken control over them. The Rwandan army alone was making in excess of $20 million dollars a month from the coltan mining; to this day, though the price of coltan has again fallen, those same forces maintain a monopoly over the mining regions. Since that point, human rights atrocities in the area have skyrocketed.
The coltan is then shipped out to various firms where it is made into the sought-after tantalum powder, which is in turn sold and sent off to companies like Nokia, Motorola, Compaq, Sony, and others.
I wonder if Idi Amin is in Chad's "five?"
The aforementioned atrocities have been linked to a chain of organized crime that spreads outward from the region, connecting to various multi-national corporations, such as the American Cabot Corp. and OM Group, HC Starck from Germany, and Nigncxia of China. All of these companies, and others, have been linked by a UN Panel of Experts to the bribery, rape, and extortion perpetrated by supra-governments and proxy puppet armies in the Congo.
All while over $6 million in raw cobalt is exported from the region...daily.
The Congo, which by all rights should be the wealthiest nation on the face of God's green earth, is instead one of the most imporverished, disease-ridden countries in the world, despite also being rich in deposits of tin, copper, and diamonds. Conflicts of interest between mining corporations and our past three presidents, Lockheed Martin, GE, Boeing, and Halliburton have also been detailed.
But then again, its certainly nothing new to the Congolese people. They've been getting stripped and railroaded for decades now; the only things that have changed are what gets stripped and who does the stripping: rubber to the Belgians, diamonds to Mobutu, and now coltan and niobium.
All of this, in addition to the effect of expanded and malevolent mining on nonhuman life, such as the forests, vegetation, and certain endangered species, including varieties of gorilla.
I can't point fingers...I have a cell phone, and I find it very convenient, though I live with the knowledge that I technically carry around roughly a dozen corpses in my back pocket.
Like most issues of conscience and outright decency plaguing us today, this is a vicious cycle. Enter the iPhone, a device that can do everything short of washing your delicates. It is a phone, computer, and iPod all in one, effectively rendering the latter components slightly more obsolete. So we throw them away...millions of dollars repaid with endless innocent blood simply tossed away like a bubble gum wrapper, only to be replaced by another death-bought product.
Sources: The Taylor Report, March 8 2005
Earth First! Journal, Augusta 2005
Z Magazine, March 1 2006
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