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Child Battery!

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

We have come along way we with our state-of-the-art technologies such as smartphones and laptop computers:  We are so evolved, and empowered, mostly because of how clever we are as human beings and how we progress each generation to become more civilized than the one before.


It wasn’t always like that.  I remember learning about the Industrial Revolution at school and of children working in factories and mines in appalling conditions. Of course this was 1842, Dickensian England where it was common for up to 40% of this  work force in these industries to be children and youths. The conditions were shocking, the treatment as bad but that was then and this is now.  First World children are no longer sent up chimneys or down mine shafts and we can all rest easy in our beds.


Or can we?  Last weekend I was watching Sky news and was horrified when a story was aired about young boys and girls working as artisan miners in southern DRC, extracting cobalt. The visual s were of children working mostly above ground, sifting through leftover rubble and rock, searching for bits of ore which they then sort and wash. The youngest was a mere four years of age! A few of the children interviewed told stories of how, because their parents couldn’t afford to pay for food or  clothes,  they were forced to work.

 

Many said they were frequently ill which is hardly surprising as inhaling cobalt dust can cause hard metal lung disease – a potentially fatal condition –  and skin contact  can cause dermatitis – a chronic rash – yet there are no protective masks or gloves to be seen in this picture. The children work long hours, up to 12 hours a day, hauling back-breaking loads of between 20 and 40kg for about 1 or 2 US dollars per day.

 

In a UNICEF report on this atrocity, one fourteen-year-old boy, who began mining aged 12 and worked underground, reported that he would often: “spend 24 hours down in the tunnels. I arrived in the morning and would leave the following morning.” Violence and intimidation is part of the environment and to see on Sky the image of young children being aggressively manhandled and abused left me terribly sad.  Research reveals an estimated 40,000 children are employed in these mining operations.


It is incredulous that this happens in this day and age, although when I mentioned this to a friend she remarked that perhaps I was quite gullible. Wherever there is money there is suffering in the money trail. You see these days cobalt is now nearly as valuable as gold and demand is increasing as it is used in batteries for smartphones, cars and computers, most of it mined in the DRC which produces 50% of the world’s cobalt, then sold to millions of companies across the world, giant household brands including Apple, Microsoft and Vodafone. This has been exposed in a damning report by Amnesty International called


“This is what we die for.   HYPERLINK "https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr62/3183/2016/en/" t "_blank"  Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo power the global trade in cobalt.” This report was published early last year but the abuses in mines remain mostly out of sight and therefore out of mind because in today’s global marketplace end-user consumers have no idea about the conditions at the mine, factory, and assembly line.


The findings of the Amnesty report have been shared with these giant corporations but their response appears to be that they are buying from legitimate sellers, referring to the clean-looking end transactions of a  crooked but convoluted supply chain, and only traceable in the sordid first few links. Responding to the allegations, Huayou Cobalt the company which buys at the rock face, so to speak,  told Amnesty International “our company has not been aware that any of our legitimate suppliers has hired child labour in their mining sites or operated in unsafe working conditions … CDM has rigorously selected its ore suppliers to ensure the procurement of raw materials through legitimate channels”. 

Amnesty’s investigation, however, uses investor documents to show how Huayou Cobalt and its subsidiary CDM, process the cobalt before selling it to three battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea. In turn, they sell to battery makers who supply technology and car companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, Daimler and Volkswagen.


Of the 16 companies listed in the Amnesty report as sourcing from battery manufacturers using processed cobalt from Huayou Cobalt, two multinational companies denied sourcing any cobalt from the DRC and five said they had no links with Huayou Cobalt. The remaining companies either accepted Amnesty’s claims or were investigating the claims independently.


In its response to the allegations, which Amnesty has published in full, alongside responses from the other named companies, Apple said it was currently evaluating whether cobalt in the company’s products originated in the DRC. “Underage labour is not tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards,” it says.


Vodafone,’s response stated that (Vodafone) “is unaware as to whether or not cobalt in our products originates in Katanga in the DRC … both the smelters and the mines from which the metals such as cobalt are originally sourced are several steps away from Vodafone in the supply chain”.


“What is very worrying is that none of the companies that we identified through our research and named in investor documents could trace the cobalt they use in their products back to the mines where it originated. Around half of all cobalt comes from the DRC, and no company can validly claim that they are unaware of the human rights and child labour abuses linked with mineral extraction in the region,” says Mark Dummett, Business & Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International.


He described some of the company responses to Amnesty’s assertions as “staggering”. For example, when asked whether it sourced cobalt from CDM or Huayou Cobalt, Microsoft responded by saying: “We have not traced the cobalt used through our supply chain to the smelter level due to the complexity and the resources required.”


Emmanuel Umpula,  Afrewatch’s Executive Director said “It is a major paradox of the digital era that some of the world’s richest, most innovative companies are able to market incredibly sophisticated devices without being required to show where they source raw materials for their components….These are some of the biggest companies in the world, with combined profits of $125 billion and there is no excuse that companies aren’t investing some of that profit into ensuring that they can trace where the minerals they are using are coming from…..Anyone with a smartphone would be appalled to think that children as young as seven carrying out back-breaking work for 12 hours a day could be involved at some point in the making of it.”


Without question any civilised person would agree that using children in mining has to be one of the worst forms of child labour. So the next time you chill and take a call or surf the net with your café latte in one hand (courtesy of the children in Nicaragua working on the coffee plantations) and your Galaxy S6 in the other (from the destitute children of the DRC), give a thought to how it got there: It is not only Governments that have a legal duty not only to prevent this, but eliminate it altogether and product manufacturers who have a responsibility to check for child labour in their supply chains, address it where they find it, and publicly disclose the steps they have taken but us as consumers, taking advantage of cheap technology with no thought as to how it can sell for little.


Amnesty is using the findings of the report to call on multinationals to conduct investigations of their supply chains for lithium-ion batteries, to check for child labour or labour abuses and to be more transparent about their suppliers.  It’s also up to us as consumers of the end product to make sure they do and demand they take action; and not just on this but every other human rights abuses that we pick off the shelves and put in our shopping trolley.  In some small way we are all guilty of allowing cheap child labour to flourish but is that really such a small price that we are prepared to pay?

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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