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Lost childhood

As a social worker with over 20 years in the field of helping others, striving to make a difference in the world and battling to maintain my optimistic view that the world can become a better place, I find myself wondering at times whether or not the small steps that I take as well as others to facilitate global change really does make a difference. 

The other day I was looking over my e-newsletters from Amnesty International; a human rights organizations founded in 1961 and to my horror, I was drawn to an article entitled “Apple; Child Labour in our phones?”   Could this be true? I thought to myself.  With the cell phone industry expanding every minute and Apple making over 53 million dollars in profit last year alone in cell phone sales, I started to worry about what I was about to read and further understand.

The article spoke about one of the most prevalent chemical element found in our cell phones; cobalt being extracted by children as young as 7 years old in dangerous and hazardous conditions. I was shocked, confused and yet determined to find out more.  Some of what I found out was this;

Cobalt is one of many minerals in a mobile phone; mainly found in its battery.  Most of the world’s cobalt can be found in Africa or more specifically the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Other countries such as China, Canada, Russia, Australia, Cuba, Brazil, Philippines, Zambia, South Africa, New Caledonia and Morocco are ranked in the top 10 cobalt producing countries.   Nevertheless, the DRC in 2014 produced 54,000 MT in comparison to China of 7,200 MT.  In essence, the DRC is the largest mining country in the world.  The mining process must be done by hand.  Hands of which I have now understood to be children’s hands. Children working 12 hour shifts underground collecting the mineral while others remain at the surface sifting and sorting in the grueling heat.  Children who are sent there by their parents in order to make money for the family and yet they only receive 1-2$ per day.  Children who for the most part are not wearing any protective gear or masks despite the significant dangers of exposure to cobalt dust.  UNICEF estimates that there are approximately 40,000 children working in the mines.

In January 2016, human rights organisation Amnesty accused Apple, Samsung and Sony amongst others of failing to investigate and do basic checks to ensure that the minerals in their products are not mined by children despite their affirmation of having zero tolerance policy towards child labour.  As of today, most of the companies have stated that it is unclear to them where the cobalt they use comes from.  Others have said that they would further investigate the claims.

What blows me away is how multi-million dollar companies are able to develop technology, phones and apps for just about anything and yet it is “unclear” as to where one of the main minerals to make these products come from?  This to me is outrageous! And what is even worse, is that innocent children around the world are being exploited and abused as a result of companies’ ignorance and/or resistance in providing adequate information to consumers who dare to care about where this mineral comes from.

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Janice Hamel

Janice Hamel is a devoted social worker working in the health care field and proactively engaged in the international field.  She graduated from the University of British Colombia with her Master’s in Social Work with a concentration in International Social Work.

Over the last 20 years, Janice has taken on the role of advocate, researcher, counselor, group animator, guest speaker and manager. She has worked with adults and children living with mental health issues, woman and children affected by violence, seniors and those in palliative/hospice care. As well as in combatting to end human trafficking.