(Parts of this post originally published by The Guardian, December 30, 2011).
While increased access to mobile technology in an undisputed advantage for many, the manufacturing process of the phones themselves negatively impacts others. Ironically, the very people targeted for increased mobile connectivity through poverty reduction schemes are also those whose lives are in jeopardy from the mining required to make electronic devices. Mobile phones require rare earth metals that are often extracted by children and slaves in conflict zones. The idea of “blood mobiles” is modeled after the well-known campaign against blood diamonds mined in African war zones and used to perpetuate conflict (Kristof, 2010).
Nathan & Sarkar (2010) shed light on the controversy over coltan, a mineral used in mobile phones (as well as computers and other devices). While coltan only makes up a very small percentage of the raw materials used in mobile phones, it is an essential component. 30% of the world’s supply comes from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where its extraction directly sustains armed violence, child labor and poverty in one of the world’s deadliest conflicts. The coltan industry finances armed rebels and has become a reason for armed conflict between groups vying for control: “An ugly paradox of the 21st century is that some of our elegant symbols of modernity — smartphones, laptops and digital cameras — are built from minerals that seem to be fueling mass slaughter and rape in Congo” (Kristof, 2010, para. 2). As activist Delly Mawazo Sesete - a native of the DRC - explains in a recent article in The Guardian, Apple is "perfectly positioned to be the first company to create a Congo conflict-free phone." Sesete explains:
While conflict began as a war over ethnic tension, land rights and politics, it has increasingly turned to being a war of profit, with various armed groups fighting one another for control of strategic mineral reserves. Near the area where I grew up, there are mines with vast amounts of tungsten, tantalum, tin, and gold – minerals that make most consumer electronics in the world function.
While minerals from the Congo have enriched your life, they have often brought violence, rape and instability to my home country. That's because those armed groups fighting for control of these mineral resources use murder, extortion and mass rape as a deliberate strategy to intimidate and control local populations, which helps them secure control of mines, trading routes and other strategic areas. Living in the Congo, I saw many of these atrocities firsthand. I documented the child slaves who are forced to work in the mines in dangerous conditions. I witnessed the deadly chemicals dumped into the local environment. I saw the use of rape as a weapon. And despite receiving multiple death threats for my work, I've continued to call for peace, development and dignity in Congo's minerals trade.
But the good news is that your favorite electronics don't have to fund mass violence and rape in the Congo, and neither do mine.
That's why I'm asking Apple to make an iPhone made with conflict-free minerals from the Congo by this time next year. Apple has been an industry leader in both supply chain management and making corporate social responsibility a priority. In the past two years, Apple has taken great strides to source minerals responsibly and control their supply chain.
This past September and October, Prof. Kent delivered lectures in five different cities, based primarily on his recent books Ending Hunger Worldwide, and Regulating Infant Formula. His lecture tour began in Norway with an invitation to speak at the University of Oslo's Centre for Development and Environment, with talks entitled “Deepening Poverty and Ill Health with Infant Formula” and “Ending Hunger Worldwide: Changing Perspectives on Food Insecurity." From Oslo, Dr. Kent traveled to the University of Ghent and Belgian Health Ministry; Corvinus University in Budapest, Hungary; Coventry, UK and finally back in the U.S. at the University of Connecticut (Storrs) delivering talks on similar themes: how to remedy social problems related to food security and nutrition.
At the University of Connecticut, Prof. Kent received a plaque recognizing his work. It reads:
“UNESCO Chair Award. Presented to George Kent. In recognition of your practical contributions to women’s empowerment and to the expansion of the frontiers of human rights and to fostering global solidarity. UNESCO Chair & Institute of Comparative Human Rights. 12th Annual International Conference on Food Security and Human Rights.”
Upon return to his home in Honolulu, Dr. Kent was invited to speak to the University of Hawaii's Law School, its School of Public Health, and its Department of Urban and Regional Planning.
Currently he is working on a paper called “Rights-Based Disaster Planning,” which will be the basis of talks he has been invited to share this coming February at the East-West Center in Honolulu, and at a conference in March for the Pacific Rim International Conference on Disability and Diversity.
The New Zealand Lactation Consultants Association has requested Prof. Kent lecture in three cities in mid-2012. Additionally, as Co-Convener of the Commission on International Human Rights of the International Peace Research Association, he plans to participate in its meeting in Japan in November 2012. These trips to New Zealand and Japan will be Prof. Kent's 93rd and 94th international trips, representing a lifetime of work dedicated to empowering the most marginalized people.
Partnerships between schools and for-profit companies are a growing trend in cash-strapped school districts but may cause harm to schoolchildren, according to new research by an international team of scholars. The potential damage goes beyond the immediate health threat posed by the school-based marketing to children of soft drinks and other junk foods. Corporate commercializing activities in schools undermine the teaching of critical thinking skills essential to a good education, according to Alex Molnar and co-authors Faith Boninger and Joseph Fogarty.
The report, The Educational Cost of Schoolhouse Commercialism: The Fourteenth Annual Report on Schoolhouse Commercializing Trends: 2010-2011, was released on November 7, 2011 by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado Boulder.
The new report on schoolhouse commercializing trends considers how commercializing activities in schools directly and indirectly undermine the quality of the education children receive. Harm is due to the shifting of school time toward activities promoted by commercial sponsors. Such business-sponsored activities in recent years include product demonstrations and contestslike the “ASA School Tour.” The pretext for the tour is to show children that it’s cool to be tobacco-free, but when the Tour arrives at a local high school, classes aresuspended for a mandatory assembly that includes an action sports show and exposure to sponsors’ branding, with on-site promotions and sampling. When Microsoft sponsored the tour, for example, new Xbox games were a featured attraction.
Finally, a less obvious but significant educational harm associated with school commercialism involves the threat posed to critical thinking. Research shows, Molnar and colleagues write, that critical thinking skills are best fostered in an environment where students are encouraged “to ask questions, to think about their thought processes and thus develop habits of mind that enable them to transfer the critical thinking skills they learn in class to other, unrelated, situations.” Yet, as they point out, “…it is never in a sponsor’s interest for children to learn to identify and evaluate its points of view and biases, to consider alternative points of view, or to generate and consider alternative solutions to problems.”
“Corporate sponsors want their story to be accepted uncritically,” Molnar says.
The report references the coal industry’s collaboration with children’s book publisher Scholastic Inc.. Scholastic produced materials for the American Coal Foundation’s “The United States of Energy” 4th grade curriculum. Classroom materials in this program were written to emphasize many states’ use and production of coal.
This coal curriculum caught the attention of a coalition of advocacy groups in the spring of 2011 and led to a campaign that culminated in Scholastic’s July decision to halt distribution of the coal-related materials and to reduce its production and promotion of other sponsored content. Yet Scholastic Inschool, the publisher’s marketing arm for corporate clients, has launched numerous in-school marketing campaigns in recent years for companies such as Brita water filters, Disney and Nestlé.