Marcus Bleasdale’s Shocking Photos Reveal the Ugly Truth Behind Smartphone Manufacturing

by , 02/27/14

Top image: A child is put to work at a militia-run mine in Watsa. © Marcus Bleasdale/National Geographic

Marcus Bleasdale, precious minerals, conflict minerals, rare earth minerals, smartphones, Congo, child labor, environmental destruction, mining, 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

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  1. cloudofrainbows November 21, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    If there are ethical phones to buy, then that’s where we need to start. Then we make sure we pass the message on. To be honest I hadn’t heard of a Fairphone before until this post. But the next phone I have will be a Fairphone. We have to start somewhere no matter how small. Things will change eventually. Its the same with meat. I have no qualms about people eating it, I just cant anymore, not once you look into the treatment of the animals, properly. What difference does it make, me not eating meat? Not much, but my wife doesn’t eat it, two of my grown up kids no longer eat it. Their kids will probably follow suit, maybe the friends. Eventually….

  2. greenbuzz September 15, 2014 at 6:00 am

    I think its unfair to the Smartphone company to link there name and products to what appears to be an illegal and primitive mine operation. Children have always been exploited and America and Britain once led the way in child slavery and the almost total lack of concern about workers welfare and living conditions poverty. Have you forgotten the Sweatshops, the Oakies, and and the Vanderbilt railway line workers, or the plight of the Chinese workers in California boom days? Child labour and trade schools are for many youngsters the best form of self-education, and it moulds men not ‘forever students?

  3. Tuvshinbat Sundui May 4, 2014 at 6:14 am


  4. Eva Charlton February 27, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    I wonder, though, in comparison to the rest of the demands for these precious stones, metals and minerals, how much of this “devastation” is due do to the smart phone and electronics industries’ consumers’ demands? Is there a measurable comparison? The images are compelling, but this has been going on for generations – most notably being brought to light with blood-diamond mining (not that I am in any way saying it is OK). I just want to if this terrible imagery is being sensationalized, by saying that every person who owns a phone, tv, or computer plays a part in this oppression?

  5. junkyardmonkie December 5, 2013 at 11:22 am

    I’m a bit late, but I would like to point out that these photos were taken around 2003-2004, and smartphones like the one pictured in the article didn’t come to market until around 2007. While cellphones themselves were being manufactured, I’d be interested to see if since then the major companies have put forth any effort to prevent getting their gold from these sources. Since this is supposed to be journalism, I’m curious to see some further investigation.

  6. Renee11371137 October 31, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    This is why I bought a FairPhone… It may not be perfect yet, but my money is helping to make a difference.

  7. simonthart October 13, 2013 at 11:33 am

    yes thanks for phones //don’t blame the companies if the companies had a chose they would open a mine and these people will work wit machines to excavate the minerals but now they protect the land / soil with guns so no one comes and mine in that country the Gov is to corrupt and only the rich incl Gov officials will be the mine owners and that’s how they will control the mines with guns so don’t blame Smart phones

  8. Mary Taffe October 12, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    How can we, the buyers of unethically-made products, change this? Where do we start when nearly everything is made at expense to someone. Is this because of intentional ignorance on the part of production demagogues? Why is no one ever accountable for these atrocities? Is life just that unfair?

  9. Elisa X-z October 11, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    Seria bueno saber que compañías de celulares están involucradas directa o indirectamente.

  10. rachelsarnoff October 11, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Wow. This is horrific, and so important to know more about. Sharing this now. Thank you!

  11. arbyhand October 11, 2013 at 12:45 am

    What do we need to do? Do we need to stop buying smart phones?

  12. dave t October 10, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    It’s good that they’re working and a nice reminder that life isn’t easy for anyone. We all have our crosses to bear…

  13. AlfredEspinosa87 October 10, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Is this for real?, which ones are conflicty-free mineral made?

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