Bandi is talking about a difficult topic that is close to him, and closer to many of us than we realise: the Congo.
Our mobile phones connect us to our loved ones and colleagues, at home and overseas. They are symbols of our interconnected world. But they leave a bloody trail. Tantalum is mined in the Congo as Coltan, for use in phones, and all sorts of medical and other equipment. The Congo consistently scores dreadfully in global poverty and health rankings, but the worth of the country has been estimated as over $24 trillion. The extraction of tantalum has financed and fuelled ongoing war. It has contributed to terrible suffering – killings, rape, depopulation. 30,000 children are enlisted and made to fight in armed groups. The state-regulated mining industry has collapsed, so control has splintered and is easily taken by armed groups, who disguise the minerals and use illegal trade routes into Rwanda.
But don’t throw away your phones yet.
The irony is that this technology that has brought such suffering, has also brought the situation to our attention. The mobile phone has given people around the world an important tool in gaining their political freedom.
We are faced with a paradox.
TED has always celebrated what technology in its finished form can do for us. It is time to start asking about where technology comes from, who makes it, and why. At the moment, there is no clear Fairtrade solution, but there has been a huge amount of progress. The US has introduced legislation. The UK could do the same. Nokia has a new policy on sourcing. There is a petition to Apple.
On arrival in the UK, 21 years ago, Bandi found communication very difficult. Today, his two sons can talk to their grandparents and get to know them. Why should we allow such a brilliant product be the source of unnecessary suffering. We demand Fairtrade food and clothing. It is time to demand Fairtrade phones. This is an idea worth spreading.
Massive standing ovation. Very emotional.