The Humanitarian Crisis of Precious Metals Mining

Unless we're actively confronted with it, it's easy to forget where our products actually come from. If we don't see who made the product, how it was shipped, and where the money goes, we usually just pocket our possessions and move on with our lives. But it doesn't take much digging to see that we have a humanitarian crisis on our hands when it comes to the precious metals industry. And if you use a mobile phone, you're likely (unknowingly) contributing to the problem.

Karuschain is a company dedicated to fixing these problems with the help of technology. With the use of the blockchain, we can now get the transparency and information we need to make smarter, more ethical decisions. Their mission is critical to fixing the problems and obscurities of our supply chains.

Children in Mines

No one wants to use their phone at the expense of a small child in another country. And yet, that's exactly what many people do every day without knowing it, largely because there's no information provided about how that phone was produced. The packaging may say where the phone was put together, but it doesn't tell you how all those materials made their way around the world. If you travel to eastern Congo, you'll find children working in unregulated mines for the minerals that go into phones sold all over the world.

As the kids extract the materials, the profits from their efforts are effectively funding a war that has lasted for two solid decades. It's the bloodiest conflict since World War II and yet few people outside the country understand the extent of the problem. Major companies like Apple and HTC may address the problems of child labor, but they can't actively prevent all of it, and therefore can't guarantee that the minerals in your phone weren't mined by a 9-year-old with respiratory problems.

What Is Social Responsibility?

You may not be able to locate the Democratic Republic of the Congo on a map, but you should know that it's been a huge supplier of precious metals for the past decade and a half. The villages surrounding the mines are being exploited by those in power, trapping tens of thousands of people into a small area. If they want to leave, they have to pay armed guards a fee.

These villages have few resources and are filled with desperate people. All goods are heavily taxed with armed guards controlling the transport of all items. This makes prostitution common and child labor even more common. It's more expensive to exit the village than it is to stay, which is why many people stick around.

In Bolivia, you'll find people mining the tin for smartphone products. One of their major hot spots (so to speak) is a hill that overlooks the town of Potosi. Like the villages in Congo, these small towns don't have access to modern technology, which means they have to rely on a methodology that was first invented several centuries ago. UNICEF found 6-year-old children working in these mines. BBC found the average lifespan of a miner in this area is just 40 years.

All mainstream players in this space has already made it clear that they don't support these practices. They've actively come down on child labor (which makes sense, even if it's only a PR move) but they do seem content to turn a bit of a blind eye to certain conditions. They may not be able to monitor these mines every single second of every single day, but they can choose to cut ties with those who break their rules even once. As long as the profits continue to roll in, the powers that be have very little reason to change.

What Is Environmental Responsibility?

From drainage to contamination, these mines are also affecting the public health of those in the area and beyond. For a long time, researchers ignored the larger impact entirely so we have only a few studies on their long-term impact.

The primary reason why major companies choose third-world countries is not necessarily because it's cheaper (even though it is) but also because the country has far fewer regulations. When the country doesn't require multiple permits or various inspections just to start work, things just get done faster.

But all that sidestepping and rushing is causing some very nasty consequences for everyone. To add insult to injury, those in power aren't using the profits to improve the villages that surround the mine. If anything, these mines destroy the health and well-being of the average inhabitant, and the inequality sparks the rise of conflict, dictators, and corruption. So the people who stand the benefit the most from these valuable resources are being punished for it.

Taking the High Road

This is not to say that no progress has been made in these areas, but the truth is that there's still a humanitarian crisis that isn't being addressed. One way we may be able to help is to give consumers more insight into where their products are coming from. And they are interested! Consumers want to know not just where their iPhone was assembled, but how each material of the phone made its way into the product in their hand.

Karuschain is using the power of the blockchain to make this happen. The unalterable ledger that is the blockchain is a hack-proof way to store information and highlight the truth. Once people can buy ethically sourced products, they will. Because no one wants to be the reason why a 6-year old has to wake up early to head to the mines. No one needs to text that badly.