You Probably Own Stuff That’s Made By Slaves

I can’t say for sure, but more than likely, you do. We all do.

I hammer the issue of sustainability in tech design pretty hard, and one thing that surprises me is how few people can actually hear the problem when I explain it. 75% of respond with something like “I don’t care if my computer is fixable, because I’ll just buy a new one.” THAT IS THE PROBLEM. I want to grab that 75% and shake them by the shoulders until they get it. Where do the precious metals and minerals in your technology come FROM? (Mostly smuggled out of developing countries who don’t see any of the profit.) How are they sourced? (Often by slaves, who are often children.) What happens to these gadgets at the end of their usable lives? (They release toxins into the groundwater of wherever they’re disposed, which is usually a developing nation. Children light them on fire, to burn away the useless parts, releasing carcinogens and harmful chemicals into the air, breathing them into their lungs. Then they pick through the charred remains for precious metals.) Can the product be recycled, or even responsibility disposed of? (In the case of Apple’s latest Retina MacBook Pro: no.)

This is a problem. This is a huge problem. It’s about more than repairability; it’s about sustainability, and being good stewards of our planet, and about massive social injustice. So please, stop telling me how you have no problem “just going out and buying a new one,” and try to hear what I am saying. What so many people are saying. We are responsible for what is happening to these people. We need to demand change.

Here is a two-minute video that scratches the surface regarding slave labor and the mining of precious metals for our gadgets. Please watch it, and pass it along to your friends if you think it’s important that people are made aware of the crisis.

If you are not feeling anything for the people whose lives are being affected by this crisis, you need to start wondering why that is. How does this injustice not make your heart sad? How is this not an outrage?  What is the matter with you, that you’re not upset by this? I know it is totally not okay to be so politically incorrect, but I’m not so sure that political correctness is getting us anywhere. I’m not so sure that political correctness is restoring the lives of slaves.

I hate to rail on and on like such a Negative Nancy. It makes me uncomfortable. Like when I have to go next door at three-o’clock in the morning and ask them to keep it down. But isn’t it time that the party’s over? Can’t we agree that we had our fun, but it’s time to begin making better decisions?


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