Today in class, we held a brief debate about the ethics of purchasing phones and other cheap technology when their cheapness is enabled by exploitation of slave labor. Our team needed to debate the affirmative stance- that we should stop purchasing this technology. Well known electronic firms, like Apple and Samsung, claim to provide their workers a high living wage, but fail to provide proof of this. The acquisition of their raw materials is more than likely a result of the exploitation or enslavement of their workers.
Some of the conditions that workers may face were described by Kevin Bale during his interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. Workers at Bisie in Congo venture into mines with no protective gear, handle potentially dangerous minerals and chemicals, and generally live in harsh conditions. These people sleep in piles in tunnels, they are beaten, sexually assaulted, and receive no medical care.
Kevin Bale mentioned that, while a lot of the blame is placed on the companies that promote the use of cheap labor, some of that blame does fall on our shoulders as consumers. One of the most important things I think we must do is inform people. Before delving into this topic in class, I honestly didn’t realize that the devices I used daily were likely made in such inhumane conditions. I’m certain that many people still don’t realize this. Creating an advertising campaign on the issue could stimulate discussion and lead to mass action.
One of the suggestions our team made in the debate was to boycott technology produced by Apple, Samsung, or any other big electronic firm that possibly utilizes slave labor. Instead, we could purchase goods from other firms, like Nokia, who can prove that it pays its factory workers a living wage. This could serve as an example to companies who profit from cheap labor; once they realize the consumer prioritizes working conditions, they may be motivated to as well.
It’s a tricky issue. Regardless of what is done, there will be consequences. I am fortunate enough to not have to deal with the circumstances described in the article. But does that mean it doesn’t matter, or that I cannot change it? Every time I look at my phone, I now think about where it came from and who was mistreated throughout the process of its creation. I feel that it is our responsibility to take action.