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We’re All in This Together
 The Problem
with Cell Phones
By Allyson Carr, Justice Ministries
“We’re all in this together,” is an im- portant reminder many of us have heard as the pandemic and its effects have unfolded. Christians are called on to love our neighbour, pursue jus- tice and care for those in need. In our present context, people have had to adapt what “being together” or “in it together” means when we haven’t been able to be physically close to care for one another in the ways we were used to—and one of the things that has allowed many of us to stay connected is our cell phones.
Cell phones have become not only a way for us to keep in touch with loved ones during the pandemic through voice or video calls, but they are also now portals to news, web- sites and even advocacy. Video taken with cell phones and then shared across social media (which is also frequently accessed through cell phones) has shed light on terrible in- justices. Cell phones have been used to document brutality, rights abuses and the protests that seek to change them. In a very real sense, it would be difficult to imagine the current social push for a more just world without the tools cell phones have become.
But without decrying any of this, and acknowledging that they provide much good and connection in our current social context, it is important to recognize that there are often also a significant number of rights abuses associated with their manufactur- ing and with obtaining the metals necessary to build the batteries that run them. As pressure has risen for more and more people to have ac- cess to these information and con- nection portals—an average cell phone—so too has pressure risen to produce them quickly and cheaply. The drive for quick and cheap has often meant that concerns about fair wages, good working conditions and damage to the environment is often overlooked.
Mining for resources in Zambia.
There are many places in the sup- ply chain where exploitation, espe- cially of vulnerable people such as children, can take root. And there’s not nearly enough space to cover them in this article. It is worth high- lighting one particular form here, then, knowing that there are prob- lems up and down the supply chain. Recently, there has been a court case filed on behalf of children forced into mining labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where more than half of the world’s cobalt (used in cell phone batteries) is ex- tracted. The case (described by The Guardian here: global-development/2019/dec/16/
apple-and-google-named-in-us- lawsuit-over-congolese-child-cobalt- mining-deaths) was filed in Decem- ber of 2019 and amended in June of 2020, as more details of the terrible working conditions the children were under became available. This is not a new revelation, however; as early as 2016, Amnesty International pub- lished an exposé on child labour min- ing cobalt for cell phones in the DRC titled “Is My Phone Powered by Child Labour?”
The 2018 General Assembly recognized that forced labour is a travesty that must end, and it ap- proved sending a letter to the federal Minister of Employment and Social
Development Canada affirming the government’s commitment to ratify the “Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930.” The General Assembly also encouraged individual members to write their MPs. Such actions are impor tant, but so is addressing the issue at a pocketbook level and corporately. We can advocate for companies to stop using child labour at any point in their supply chain, con- tacting companies individually and putting pressure on them that way; we can refuse to buy products that have known child labour or forced labour in their supply chain, and we can suppor t legal organizations that
raise challenges to such practices in the courts. We can commit to being more careful about how much tech we buy, and demand that we pay the real, full price that it costs to pro- duce—including labour.
There are many ways to pursue justice, as Christians are called to do. As you use your cell phone, consider all the hands that have held it, worked on it, mined the metals and materials that comprise it. Con- sider the ear th whose materials are used. And in so doing, let us seek more—and more concrete—ways that we can truly be “all in it togeth- er,” supporting each other as God has called us to do.

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