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The Student News Site of Burke High School

The Burke Beat

The Student News Site of Burke High School

The Burke Beat

OPINION: Silent Suffering: The Human Cost of Smartphone Batteries in the Congo

“Cell phone backup battery” by Charles & Hudson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Eighty-five percent of the world’s 8 billion population have a smartphone. Most of those phones are powered by rechargeable batteries created from cobalt and coltan mined by workers enslaved in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Few people are talking about the genocide currently happening in the Congo right now, so why should we care? Men, women, and children are being enslaved in the Congo so they can mine cobalt for Western nations’ luxuries. It is estimated by the European Parliament that nearly 2 million women in the Congo have been sexually assaulted, and 6 million people have died, according to Forbes. Millions of Congolese people are forced to endure hard labor for barely a dollar a day. It is illegal for artisanal mining to take place in any industrial mine, but it is still happening in the Congo. Perhaps you believe that it’s their fault it’s happening, and they have a choice to mine or not, but in reality, they do not. According to, their villages have been bulldozed to make room for more mining industries to be able to work.

The Congolese people are forced to work in inhuman conditions, using shovels and pickaxes to search for cobalt. Not only are their work conditions inhuman, but their land has been left in ruins. Millions of trees have been cut down, the air is polluted with haze, dust, and grit, and the water has been contaminated with toxic materials from the mining process. Cobalt is toxic to breathe in and to touch, yet thousands of Congolese children, women, and men touch and breathe it in daily. Thousands of young mothers must bring their babies to the mines because they have nowhere to take them, resulting in the babies breathing and touching the toxic materials causing millions of children to die. Siddharth Kara has visited the Congo and seen all of this destruction firsthand, leading to him writing a well-known book called “Cobalt Red.”

“Imagine a mountain of gravel and stone just avalanching down on people, crushing legs and arms, spines. I met people who had metal bars where their legs used to be,” Kara said.

Can we really just sit back and let other humans be treated like this? How would it be if it were the United States in the situation? According to, ten to fifteen thousand tunnels are hand-dug by the enslaved Congolese people, none have supports, ventilation shafts, or rock bolts. No matter how you view this story, it is slavery. Most people think of slavery as something old where people trade other humans and own them as property. What is happening in the Congo is modern-day slavery. There isn’t just slavery through mining companies; 7 types of slavery exist in the Congo. According to, these include forced labor, forced prostitution, debt slavery, child labor, peonage, forced marriage, and sex slavery. Millions are degraded so they can produce cobalt and coltan for other countries; millions die as we sit here doing nothing. The Congo’s government is extremely corrupt. The first democratically elected president of the Congo in 1960, Patrice Lumumba, made a promise to the country that their rich minerals and sources would be used for the benefit of the people who lived there. Six months later, Lumumba was assassinated, chopped up into pieces, dissolved into acid, and then replaced by a ruthless dictator. From then on, the Congo’s supply of sources has been stripped by the enslaved for other countries’ luxuries.

How can we sit here with our smartphones, computers, and electronics and ignore the blood it took to get to us? The genocide of the Congolese people is one of the many genocides people in our world ignore because they are not educated, do not care, or believe it doesn’t affect us, so why care? We cannot sit back and let people be silenced anymore. There are many ways we can help the Congolese people, including educating, researching, advocating, and volunteering. A good site to check out to find what we can do to help the Congolese people is Their movement helps educate on starting savings and loans so the villagers can endure financial emergencies without going into debt bondage slaves, educate on more like-minded movements, and educate on voting for elected officials, judges, prosecutors, and administrative authorities who are educated about slavery. We must use our voice in society to bring attention to what is happening in the Congo, so it is not just another silent genocide.

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