2018/09/10: so far there’s no sign of a wide-spread shift toward restraints on child labor, better pay or safer working conditions. One reason for this is that new international trade pacts, such as GATT and NAFTA, make it difficult to enact sanctions against countries that permit labor abuses. And another reason is the obvious one: these cheap labor pools are enormously profitable for American corporations.
The consequences of the new global trade reach far beyond the wretched conditions inside the factories themselves. Environmental degradation is a hidden externality of the shift in industrial production from developed countries to Latin America and Southeast Asia. The new plants consume enormous amounts of energy in areas where power supplies have been primitive in the past. To meet the increased demand, Indonesia and Mexico have begun constructing huge coal-fired power plants, posing a grave threat to air quality in places like Jakarta and Mexico City. Similarly, China is in the midst of building dozens of new coal-fired plants that will emit thousands of tons of greenhouse gases each year, a dangerous contribution to global warming trends. But China also has more monumental ambitions: the Three Gorges hydroelectric dam.
DRC produces roughly two thirds of the world's cobalt, whose price has soared by 180% in the past three years. On paper, this would mean that DRC is sitting on a gold mine, but the reality is slightly different. On the one hand, experts talk about supply shortage. But even more disturbing is the link between cobalt mining and child labor.
Children like Lukasa, 15, who begins his 12-hour shift at the mine at 5 a.m. every day. He walks for two hours to the mining site, before spending eight hours mining this grayish metal that keeps our phones (and lives) moving. On a good day, he makes $9. Little does he know about the multibillion-dollar scramble underway.
The demand for cobalt has only just begun. Cobalt is also crucial for the global transition to renewables. Each electric car will need over 1,000 times the amount of cobalt a smartphone does.
Companies and NGOs are far from finding a solution that would end child labor without taking away from thousands of families their only source of income. Some argue thatblockchain could be the solution.
Mica, a key ingredient for the billion-dollar beauty industry, is mined by children in an impoverished region of India.
The chocolate industry is awash in shady practices, GMOs, and child labor. Here's how to tell if your bar is truly guilt-free.