Child Labour, Africa, And Parasitic Consumption

In the kind of article you’d expect straight from the conductor of the Snowpiercer*, we get this tidbit that asks – do global laws against child-labour apply to African children? Aka… if Africa has a cultural norm of exploitative child labour… should we be ok with that?

“Is international concern on child rights relevant to Africa?”


Funny that this article, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, comes when Microsoft, Dell, Apple, Google & Tesla are mired in a lawsuit over having knowledge of, and support for, forced child labour in Congolese cobalt mines resulting in many deaths & paralysing injuries for those children.

Cobalt is necessary for lithium batteries in our phones & devices. The same devices they engineer to fail faster so you need to buy a new one more often —> more child labour in dangerous cobalt mines.

The parasitic nature of a company claiming child labour builds character & comparing their childhood chores to children in cobalt mines is horrifying, yet somehow unsurprising.

Then our dead & old phones, computers & TVs get shipped to these same countries to be ‘recycled’ in yet another toxic & dangerous activity that poisons them.

The recoil & criticism of the political right to slogans like “eat the rich” turns a blind eye to the real life fact that the rich – companies & countries – are quite literally already consuming the resources, environments and even the children, of countries too poor or war-torn to stand up to them.

They convince us that we need a new phone every 2 years. And we all convince ourselves that it doesn’t matter how it arrives into our hands. This is consumerism. Consumption as progress. Permitted by profit-at-any-cost capitalism.

Ask me again why I continue to use a 5+ year old mobile phone with a cracked screen, full storage & dying battery. I’ll keep using it till I’m forced to upgrade. The ‘new hot’ phone has a blood price.

Our way of life, our measure of happiness as a factor of greed… has a blood price.

For the record : yes, global laws against child labour, do apply to African children. FFS.

I’m trying these days to couch my rants with a look at solutions. So what do we as a society & individuals do about this?

  • Start by banning planned obsolescence. The intentional engineering of products to fail faster than they otherwise would. Leading to more waste & consumption.
  • Price things appropriately so they reflect costs down the line. If your phone lasts for 6 years now instead of only 2, thanks to no planned obsolescence… maybe it costs $1600 instead of $800 & the cobalt miners get paid more than $1/day. If families earn a living wage, they won’t have to send their children to work.
  • Sending our trash & ‘recyclables’ to other countries needs to stop. Nothing pisses off voters like the appearance of landfills & recycling depots in their backyards. This would put pressure on companies to reduce the waste & fragility of their products. Maybe my shipment of soft bedsheets didn’t need a can-full of plastic filler.
  • Buy what you need, but don’t be taken in by throwaway fashion trends & the new hotness in digital devices, appliances & other goods.
  • Stop letting companies foist the true costs of their products onto future generations, by making them accountable for environmental costs of the FULL lifecycle of what they produce. Carbon credits/taxes are a baby step in this direction.