Episode 007: The Blood in our Smartphones - Business and Human Rights, a Complicated Relationship


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By Nomosphone. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.
On September 12th, ten years after the debut of the first iPhone, Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook took center stage at a meticulously rehearsed event to present the newest iPhone models. While millions of Apple users remain glued to the screens, most will actually admit that they are not yet done exploring their more than desirable, but slightly older models. Nevertheless, millions of Apple users will still choose to buy one of the newest models, consciously or subconsciously, because of Apple's masterful advertising skills and the general flair that drives the iPhone hype. The preoccupation of modern society with the acquisition of trendy items and the newest smartphone often obscures the murkier business side behind the finished product. Not many customers actually stop to ask themselves: Where does my new smartphone come from? Where is it assembled? Very few people are aware that this remarkable piece of engineering has one of the most complicated global supply chains in the world. And even fewer know that it contains the conflict mineral cobalt – the key ingredient for making our phone’s rechargeable lithium-ion batteries work. While this conflict mineral has made billions for tech companies like Apple and Samsung, it is also at the heart of ongoing human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of the poorest and most desperate regions in the world. Today, one could argue that ‘blood cobalt’ has become the new ‘blood diamond’. In this episode we set out to investigate the legal issues surrounding accountability in the global supply chain of cobalt. Globalization has changed the landscape of multinational corporations by expanding the operating scope and facilitating cost-saving arrangements, such as outsourcing and offshoring. This change has birthed a new type of risk in global business, namely the liability for operations of partner businesses throughout the supply chain. This risk goes hand in hand with the growing demand among consumers and shareholder activists for supply chain transparency and accountability. These stakeholders in the global market desire to invest in products or purchase goods that are in alignment with their personal preferences and ethical considerations, which involve fair labor, human rights protections, environmental sustainability and ethical sourcing. We focused our investigation around three interviews to discuss the science behind cobalt use, the potential means of overcoming obstacles to achieve equal resource distribution and victim compensation in the DRC, and the effects of the Dodd-Frank Act on mineral extraction and conflict in the DRC. We thank our interviewees, Ms. Elsje Opperman (former master student in particle physics at Warwick University), Mr. Emmanuel Umpula (executive director of Afrewatch DRC), and Ms. Annika van Baar (PhD candidate at the Faculty of law at VU Amsterdam) for their meaningful contribution and enthusiastic participation in this episode. A special thanks to our supervisor Dr. Anna Marhold for guiding us through this project from the initial idea to the final editing process. Be sure to subscribe to our Soundcloud and Facebook pages to stay up to date on our most recent episodes. And if you like what we do, please leave us a review in iTunes - it really helps get the word out about Nomosphone! We acknowledge the use of Hindenburg and Audacity podcast editing software, and the use of the following music: Lee Rosevere’s ‘Puzzle Pieces’, ‘Under Suspicion’, ‘Sad Marimba Planet’, ‘Curiosity’ and ‘What’s Behind the Door’, and Podington Bear’s ‘Bumble’ (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/legalcode.)

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