Bandi Mbubi: Demand a fair trade cell phone

Translator: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Morton Bast I want to talk to you today about a difficult topic
that is close to me, and closer than you might realize to you. I came to the UK 21 years ago,
as an asylum-seeker. I was 21. I was forced to leave
the Democratic Republic of the Congo, my home, where I was a student activist. I would love my children to be able
to meet my family in the Congo. But I want to tell you
what the Congo has got to do with you. But first of all,
I want you to do me a favor. Can you all please reach into your pockets
and take out your mobile phone? Feel that familiar weight … how naturally your finger
slides towards the buttons. (Laughter) Can you imagine your world without it? It connects us to our loved ones, our family, friends and colleagues, at home and overseas. It is a symbol of an interconnected world. But what you hold in your hand
leaves a bloody trail, and it all boils down to a mineral: tantalum, mined in the Congo as coltan. It is an anticorrosive heat conductor. It stores energy in our mobile phones,
PlayStations and laptops. It is used in aerospace
and medical equipment as an alloy. It is so powerful
that we only need tiny amounts. It would be great
if the story ended there. Unfortunately, what you hold in your hand has not only enabled incredible
technological development and industrial expansion, but it has also contributed
to unimaginable human suffering. Since 1996, over five million people have died
in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Countless women, men and children
have been raped, tortured or enslaved. Rape is used as a weapon of war, instilling fear
and depopulating whole areas. The quest for extracting this mineral has not only aided, but it has fueled the ongoing war in the Congo. But don’t throw away your phones yet. Thirty thousand children are enlisted and are made to fight in armed groups. The Congo consistently scores dreadfully in global health and poverty rankings. But remarkably, the UN Environmental Programme
has estimated the wealth of the country to be over 24 trillion dollars. The state-regulated mining
industry has collapsed, and control over mines has splintered. Coltan is easily controlled
by armed groups. One well-known illicit trade route
is that across the border to Rwanda, where Congolese tantalum
is disguised as Rwandan. But don’t throw away your phones yet, because the incredible irony is that the technology
that has placed such unsustainable, devastating demands on the Congo is the same technology that has brought
this situation to our attention. We only know so much about the situation
in the Congo and in the mines because of the kind of communication
the mobile phone allows. As with the Arab Spring, during the recent elections in the Congo, voters were able to send text messages
of local polling stations to the headquarters
in the capital, Kinshasa. And in the wake of the result, the diaspora has joined
with the Carter Center, the Catholic Church and other observers, to draw attention
to the undemocratic result. The mobile phone has given
people around the world an important tool towards gaining
their political freedom. It has truly revolutionized the way
we communicate on the planet. It has allowed momentous
political change to take place. So, we are faced with a paradox. The mobile phone
is an instrument of freedom and an instrument of oppression. TED has always celebrated
what technology can do for us, technology in its finished form. It is time to be asking questions
about technology. Where does it come from? Who makes it? And for what? Here, I am speaking directly to you, the TED community, and to all those who might
be watching on a screen, on your phone, across the world, in the Congo. All the technology is in place
for us to communicate, and all the technology is in place
to communicate this. At the moment, there is no clear fair-trade solution. But there has been
a huge amount of progress. The US has recently passed legislation to target bribery
and misconduct in the Congo. Recent UK legislation
could be used in the same way. In February, Nokia unveiled its new policy
on sourcing minerals in the Congo, and there is a petition to Apple
to make a conflict-free iPhone. There are campaigns spreading
across university campuses to make their colleges conflict-free. But we’re not there yet. We need to continue
mounting pressure on phone companies to change their sourcing processes. When I first came to the UK, 21 years ago, I was homesick. I missed my family
and the friends I left behind. Communication was extremely difficult. Sending and receiving
letters took months — if you were lucky. Often, they never arrived. Even if I could have afforded
the phone bills home, like most people in the Congo, my parents did not own a phone line. Today, my two sons — David and Daniel, can talk to my parents
and get to know them. Why should we allow such a wonderful, brilliant
and necessary product to be the cause of unnecessary suffering for human beings? We demand fair-trade food
and fair-trade clothes. It is time to demand fair-trade phones. This is an idea worth spreading. Thank you. (Applause)

52 thoughts on “Bandi Mbubi: Demand a fair trade cell phone

  1. No one said that capitalism is the origin of, or the unique source of greed. The fact is that capitalism encourages greed. This encouragement is inherent to the system.

  2. What is, in your view the difference between republic and democracy? Because I always thought these two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

  3. untill capitalism rapes the entire planet and 90% of us die or starve to death because someone had to make an extra buck. Untill then…yeah capitalism is great man…

    Capitalism also worked wonders for the romans by turning the mighty roman empire with a strong middle class into an aristocratic society where slaves were worth less than dogs.

    When the empire started crumbling, citizens didn't want to fight another war for the benefit of the ultra-rich. So they let it fall.

  4. I think you are mixing up majoritarianism and democracy. Democracy, in the traditional sense at least, is much more than just majority rule.

  5. any system that doesn't have a currency. You remove "money" and you won't have a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs, what will you have is however, more equality among people. You can only hold as much material goods which is deemed as valuable, as you have land to store it.

    Corrupt stems from power, remove the highest seats of power, and you reduce dramatically corruption in any system.

  6. This talk may give the impression that the Congo is the only source for tantalum. It isn't. It's not even the majority producer. There are many countries that mine tantalum, Australia being the primary one.
    …which is not to say that I disagree with anything he said. It was a good talk, and I agree with it. Just wanted to make that detail clear.

  7. What are you talking about?

    Socialist countries don't resist innovation.

    Socialism is about providing equal oppertunity to everyone. Providing everyone with education, healthcare and at least the bare minimum of living conditions. This will enable the entire population to develop and mature themselves into responsible citizens.

    Capitalism is about providing the least amount of oppertunity to everyone, to reap the profits yourself. Those that remain, prosper, those that can't compete, die.

  8. Republics are about setting basic rights for citizens and even if the majority disagrees, you give them the finger as the politician.

    Democracies are all about doing whatever the majority says.

    In reality, there are no democracies, because that would mean that you could vote and decide like a politician could on wether a law would become legal or not.

    But instead we use republics, we vote for a representative (congress) who vote on behalf of the voters.

    I'm waiting for the internet democracy

  9. But you are missing something here, you are talking about greed, but Capitalism is also only possible in a democratic society, because it favors competition. Capitalism is not only about financial gain, even if that is the goal. It is also free market, free exchange and has led to globalisation of the world, financial possibilities in a free market environment is the foundation of the European Union, something noone would have thought possible just in 1912, 100 years ago. UN aswell

  10. No I'm not citizen of USA, but I'm citizen of a republic. :)) The problem with the term republic is, that it can be traditionally governed by both democratic and aristocratic principles.
    The way I see it, democracy speaks about methods, while republic prescribes qualities. So I don't see these terms as mutually exclusive.
    But since our disagreement seems to be merely semantic, I think that continuing our dispute would be petty. :))

  11. " The United States Geological Survey reports in its yearbook that this region produced a little less than 1% of the world's tantalum output in 2002–2006, peaking at 10% in 2000 and 2008"

  12. Nay, no system is any worse than any other in the absence of GOVERNMENT exploitation. Excluding government/law, there is absolutely nothing stopping the common people (the consumers) from demanding socially responsible capitalist practices. Without consumers, the producers cannot exist. It is every bit on you as it is the "greedy corporations". Greed is NOT inherent to the system, greed is inherent only when the PEOPLE themselves encourage it by consuming products of greedy corporations.

  13. A leader of a company has a ethical responsibility to maximize profit first.We should always question their morality.A mix of capitalism and socialism is a proven way to maximize general well being of the vast majority of a given population.It does have a tendency to minimize wealth extremes on both ends.If your main goal is to become super rich I could see where you might have a problem with this.

  14. And we are 13th on the Quality-of-life Index ,and for what? So we can have super rich?If we were kicking ass on people with more socialism in Europe.But even then it's letting people go massively go without while the rest of us live in luxury.If charity keep up with the need then there wouldn't be a problem,but it doesn't.

  15. If you look at it from a less cynical perspective, greed is one of the strongest human drives. While many systems tries to surpress this drive through discipline or threats, the idea of capitalism is to exploits it to produce good.

  16. So what country would be too socialized according to you?

    Europe is pretty socialized. We have countries with strong economies and strong social systems, and we have poor ones as well (gives angry face to greece and spain).

    That's no different than pro-capitalist countries.

    99% of people want to work, you are fussing over that 1% that doesn't work.

    In europe, they get benefits, and are still unemployed. But atleast their kids have a chance.

    In america, they get nothing, and neither the kids

  17. What did he mean by "fair trade"? It doesn't seem to have much to do with the trading part. It seems like he's simply asking us to demand free trade with basic property rights and rule of law for those developing nations – which is capitalism's definition. Why use a term like "fair trade"? Perhaps simply saying "capitalist liberties and rule of law" would not have appealed to as many people. Or perhaps he did mean the actual trading with other nations part – I can't tell, can someone explain?

  18. Capitalism is a disgusting system, a perversion of humanity contrived by a tiny pernicious element of humans, and it may end up causing the end of all civilisation (climate change). People arguing for capitalism always make the 'well it worked out so far' case, which is redundant because there's nothing to compare it with – except maybe the USSR, in which case that's like comparing a shit to a bigger shit and proclaiming the first shit to be a flower.

  19. Also most of the world's humans live in crippling poverty. Capitalism is a world system and has to be analysed as such. Poorer countries perform a certain function in this system, and are used by richer countries to increase their capital and power. God I could talk about how bad capitalism is all day. Anyway, there's a lot to socialism/anarchism if you just learn/think about it. It's not as simple as USSR vs. U.S.A. I will write a better response to you another day when not so tired.

  20. I agree, but then when will there be the option to consume products that are not produced by greedy corporations yet are still cheap and reliable. It is a hard choice indeed for the average person to say, do i encourage this greed or the other one. Even if one knows there's a product out there that is "righteous to the root" it is either too expensive or not forged to the same quality.

  21. Government is a significant hindrance to a lot of things, but I was not at all blaming it for our problems. Indeed, like you, I explicitly place the responsibility with the people themselves. I am always the first to say that we need to change the people when we want something to change. Fix the people and everything else fixes itself. So again, to be perfectly clear, I agree with you. We have enough power to change things, but people just plain don't care and it's very frustrating =(

  22. My only point in mentioning the government in my comment was that WE have encouraged greed in capitalism through it. The laws we have in place, for instance, generally speaking REQUIRE that businesses put their stakeholders FIRST, above and beyond everything else. Obviously that is a blanket statement and not perfectly accurate. Nonetheless, people think government is the way to address greed, when actually it's what encourages it. Government is not the answer, changing OUR BEHAVIOR is.

  23. Yep, spot on, but also remember that no current system works. Communism or Capitalism don't work, the proof, the economy, China and North Korea,

  24. But without capitalism there would be no Greedy corporations, capitalism encourages corporations to be greedy.

  25. brilliant, I come from a place where we laugh at people for not knowing where milk, cheese, butter and meat come from but most people dont really know where the materials for their cell phones come from, sharing this in the hopes of educating a few more. The power of social media

  26. oh lord, they fight among them selves because the land has something someone might actually want, it is some how our fault….How about instead of blaming those that are willing to pump money into you economy you blame the people actually doing the fighting ah?

  27. yeah and you're buying the product that finances the fighting , so that's makes you partially responsible too

    we all are !

  28. I am buying a cell phone, they are buying the bullets. I talk to loved ones and friends on that phone, they kill each other with the bullets. I am no more responsible for their actions they they are mine. But if you think i am responcible for their action then they must be responsible for mine. If so then they are responsible for me buying the phone in the first place ah? If not then your argument is invalid.

  29. Great video, great campaign! It will take a lot of work to certify every component of a cell phone as fair trade, and this is an excellent place to start. What do you think about the currently existing Fair Trade certification process and the split between US and non-US definitions? Do you think entirely new entities for certification need to be formed? Thank you!

  30. Is it not easier to have regulation on the mining of such product than seek the death of millions of people against a telephone, a laptop etc. Surely everybody will benefit by having access to a conflict free telephone. Let us talk about it loud and put an end to such practices as they only enrich a few illegally. Telephone companies could help a lot in bringing order to this world. Peace is needed in Congo.

  31. And yet, capitalism gives us tools to address the most egregious abuses of greed, such as market pressures toward fair trade goods.

  32. The problems is not Capitalism. Capitalism is not a moral code.
    There is no law that states, we must be as greedy as possible. That's a personal choice.

    We do have the power to solve these problems, all you must do is look for a stamp that says free trade on your cell phone.

    Government is where a society puts problems that it does not want to solve. In order that no one takes personal responsibility for the problem.

  33. Do they still use tantalum capacitors in high end electronics?  For some reason I thought they moved onto some different material…

    Either way the solution is for people to quit acting like spoiled little brats and quit buying the newest, shiniest shiny toy because it's so shiny.  Of course it's better for Apple and pals to just tell the noveau-hipster culture that they can play "Stupid Flashing Lights" and look at naked people and prattle on about human rights without being a bunch of disgusting hypocrites.

    I remember trying to make a big deal about this years ago when there were actually wars starting in Africa on account of the demand for playstations.  Nobody seemed to give a crap about any of this until the State Department started trying to convince people that everyone would be better off with gigantic mineral prospecting interests running the show.  Do you people really think that the Kochs and Haliburton are going to pay those people a fairer wage, house them, feed them, care for them or make their lives any better?  At best it'll be a push with the way things are and most of the bad guys will probably stay in charge since those mining firms (which the Pauls invested in) aren't stupid enough to fight the local strongmen if they can avoid it.

    Oh, and Apple would love to make a conflict free iphone.  They could jack up the price and release a model with a graphic of some famous peoples' signatures and maybe package it with a tacky pamphlet filled with "Stories of Real African Miners" and pictures of all the little kiddies that the company rep held down and sodomized (for a nomical fee).  The names and stories will be 70% bullshit at best (albeit unverifiable) and a month or two after the photos are taken all the subjects will be dead.  You'll be able to send a picture of your naked tits to that really cute guy though.

  34. Check out – it's not fairtrade, but it's the best option we have so far. 

    Sign this petition to bring it to Canada and the U.S 

    Fairphone –

  35. I like how most of the comments are just people making conspiracy theories. We all know that it isn't your fault, I understand that you love capitalism. It's just food for thought, not communist propaganda. we all know that capitalism has been proven to be the best economic system around, it's just called being an informed consumer. I wouldn't be buying bacon if I knew the pigs were being washed in whale pee, that's just not very smart.

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