Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Blood in the Mobile" examines mobile phone industry and "conflict minerals" from the Congo



Last night, I saw "Blood in the Mobile" at Filmfest DC, at Landmark E Street Cinema.  Do you worry that your technology (particularly mobile phones and associated Internet mobility) depend on the slavery and lives of others in poor parts of the world?  Does this constitute bad personal karma? That’s the premise of the probing by Danish documentary filmmaker and director Frank Piasecki Poulsen in his examination of Finnish company Nokia and the apparent dependence on its phones on “conflict minerals” (like cassiterite, tin oxide) from the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nokia makes one third of all mobile phone sin the world. 

Poulsen starts his journey in Copenhagen (just as the “Island President” film), at a technology conference, where he gets the shove from executives and exhibitors who pass the buck on talking about this problem.  He flies himself to the Congo and hitches, with some politicizing with the UN, chopper and prop plane rides to settlements in northeast Congo, looking for the individual mines that appear in jungle and savannah.  He finally gets to the real site, and meets the mother of a 16-year-old boy who goes down into the mines (300 feet down) a week or two at a time to work. It seems as though poor people come to the area desperate for work, and are trapped in shanty towns, having to pay transit “taxes” to warlords again to leave.  Some get trapped in the tubular mines themselves, almost forced to live like “extremophiles”. 


Poulsen examines the possible solutions to the problem.  There is laser technology (being developed in Germany) to identify mineral sources.  One suggestion is for manufacturers to publish the complete sourcelists of their raw materials, but this could lead to legal conflicts with trade secrets laws.  He also goes to the US and talks to a Senator working on legislation forcing technology companies to account for their raw materials.  From a moral viewpoint, Apple has been involved in a similar concern involving cheap labor in China.

Poulsen eventually goes to Finland and meets with a “social policy” officer from the company. 

After the film, a man named “Maurice” spoke to the audience about the history of the Congo, starting with its exploitation by Belgium for the rubber business.  Eventually, it had puppet governments propped up by the US CIA, according to the speaker.  He believes that the solutions to the problem are “political”. The guest was apparently speaking for the organization "Friends of the Congo", link here

The official site is here

The production companies are Koncern and Chili.

FilmfestDC presents this film as part of its "Justice Matters" series. 


One of the best known big Hollywood movies about conflict minerals was “Blood Diamond” from Warner Brothers and director Edward Zwick in 2006, with Leonardo Di Caprio as “stand alone” renaissance man Danny Archer.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Nokia headquarters in Espoo, Finland.



Update: Aug 16, 2012

Here's a story on CNN by John D. Sutter, "Tech companies make progress on 'blood phones' and 'conflict minerals'", link here.

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