DT04 – Blood in the Mobile

For our fourth Design & Technology lecture we watched the 2010 documentary; Blood in the Mobile. It’s a documentary directed by Frank Piasecki Poulsen that exposes that there are illegal minerals inside our mobile phones that for years have fuelled conflicts, created child slavery and other severe human rights abuses in the Congo. Blood in the Mobile is a film about one of the most dangerous places on earth; it’s about human courage and above all it’s about hope and the search for solutions.

With the help of a 16-year-old miner, Poulsen obtained footage from inside a mine. The mine turns out to be a chaotic shanty-town on a mountain honeycombed with unsafe tunnels, and policed by scary, trigger-happy bullies. Then he visited Nokia’s head office in Finland to try to get answers about where they source their materials from. He also points out, with the help of experts such as the campaign group; Global Witness, that Nokia isn’t the only culprit, and that the manufacture of many other desirable commodities depend on the use of these “blood minerals”. A truly shocking film.

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As the documentary came to an end I suddenly realised that I was actually complicit in the atrocities that I had witnessed. Those around me were equally somber and most likely considering similar ethical dilemmas. I am still dealing with the issues that were raised by this blindly brave adventure into an existence that we who are privileged cannot truly grasp. The words eye-opening are barely enough to describe this film. If you own a mobile phone. If you update it when the new generation model comes out. If you think you can’t live without your mobile phone then you need to watch this film.

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However, there are a few aspects of the documentary that I am not entirely on-board with. One of which being the persistent, targeted exploitation of multinational corporate giant, Nokia. Throughout the documentary the director is quite clearly setting out purely to prove his own point. During many interviews Poulsen even badgers his interviewees to voice views that support his opinion. I don’t feel that this is entirely fair on Nokia as they were no worse at dealing with this issue than any other large consumer electronics company at this time. Moreover, the employees featured in the documentary didn’t deserve this treatment.

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Following this, I am really struggling to know what to write about this documentary. I think that now, almost 10 years after it was released, progress has been made, a lot has been done to help prevent this illegal mining activity and as product designers, but also major users of consumer electronics, we shouldn’t be too disheartened. I also think that it would be naive to believe that this large and pressing issue can just be resolved overnight.

To summarise, the documentary was designed to make us feel outraged about the conditions that these people are working in, but unfortunately that is what poverty looks like, it’s a horrible reality that is happening all across the world, not just in Congo.

So overall, a tough week for the Design & Technology blog… let’s hope for a more uplifting topic next week!

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