Most of us are never farther than arm's reach of our smartphones. We use them constantly to snap pictures and post tweets, oblivious to the sacrifices that must be made in order for billions of people around the world to have smartphones in their pockets. In the 125th anniversary issue of National Geographic magazine, documentary photographer and filmmaker Marcus Bleasdale's stunning images pull back the curtain of our ignorance. The full spread depicts the men, women, and children who put their lives on the line, enduring horrifying conditions, in order to harvest the precious minerals needed to make each and every smartphone on the market.
Top image: A child is put to work at a militia-run mine in Watsa. © Marcus Bleasdale/National Geographic
Captured during a 2004 visit to the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, Bleasdale’s images “tell the story of the country’s mineral resource exploitation, and the demand for consumer electronics that drives it,” writes Fast Company’s Sydney Brown.
Here’s an excerpt from the National Geographic piece, The Price of Precious, explaining more:
Congo is sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country and one of its richest on paper, with an embarrassment of diamonds, gold, cobalt, copper, tin, tantalum, you name it—trillions’ worth of natural resources. But because of never ending war, it is one of the poorest and most traumatized nations in the world. It doesn’t make any sense, until you understand that militia-controlled mines in eastern Congo have been feeding raw materials into the world’s biggest electronics and jewelry companies and at the same time feeding chaos. Turns out your laptop—or camera or gaming system or gold necklace—may have a smidgen of Congo’s pain somewhere in it.
The environmental devastation that must occur so that these minerals can be installed in your smartphone is mind-boggling–especially when you consider that only a fraction of these perfectly reusable minerals are harvested from used phones before they’re trashed. But even that pales in comparison to the true revelation of how our insatiable desire for the latest and greatest technology is literally killing those who have no other option but to work in the mines. Something to consider before using the word “need” and “smartphone” in the same sentence ever again, unless you buy the only one made with conflict-free materials.
All images © Marcus Bleasdale/National Geographic.
Smartphone image via luluemonathletica