Heidi Hautala called for companies’ social responsibility and regulation to fight against human rights violations in mobile phone production. Hautala introduced a Danish-German film Blood in the Mobile on One World human rights film festival in the European parliament yesterday.
The film we are going to see is very topical, as it is about corporate social responsibility and about information and communications technology that play more and more an important role for human rights.
We use our mobile phones everybody, but do we think where they come from? Do we sponsor indirectly something very negative just by speaking to our friends and relatives? Does the production of phones have a dark side?
Frank Poulsen has made an important work in researching this question by asking where the phone companies get the minerals to produce cell phones.
A major part of these minerals are coming from the mines of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The working conditions are appalling and even children work in the dark narrow tunnels.
Moreover, this illegal industry is financing one of the bloodiest civil wars after the Second World War. More than 5 million people dead, 300,000 women raped, am I supporting this with my cell phone? I want to find out.
The documentary Blood in the Mobile finds that the phone companies cannot guarantee that they are not buying these conflict minerals. The connection between the cell phones and the civil war remains unclear. This goes also for Nokia, from my native country.
The film has sparked debate also in Finland. What can we do? Is boycotting the best way?
First of all, the companies have to accept their responsibility. Big cell phone companies, like Nokia, can influence the working conditions. The companies need a due diligence process in order not to violate human rights.
But I don’t believe this is enough. We need national and international regulation. For example the US has passed a law obliging companies to report whether they use raw materials coming from Congo.
I have also concluded that this is the best way when working on the case of Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) selling to Iran surveillance technology as part of a mobile network in 2008. This technology was used to oppress the opposition in 2009.
In order to prevent this kind of result, in addition to corporate social responsibility, we need international regulation. In the NSN case the standard for the mobile phone networks should be changed in order to have less surveillance possibilities. We should also consider an embargo on the export of monitoring centers to non-democratic countries.
Lastly, we have the role of the consumer. Journalist Hanna Nikkanen has investigated the conflict minerals in her book The Innocent Empire. She feels that boycotting is not the best way, as stopping the whole mining would not help the situation in Congo. According to her, we should concentrate more in supporting better mines. But how can a consumer influence this if there is no “fair trade” label for cell phones?
I hope that the film will provide us with more ideas on how to resolve the question of what we can do.