Posts

Homelessness in QatarThough Qatar may be known for its gleaming skyline and booming business hub, there is notable income inequality that leads to downstream consequences, such as an explosion of homelessness within the nation. While perhaps the country evokes images of riches and wealth, the reality is not so for all those living and working within the country. Here are six facts about homelessness in Qatar that warrant everyone’s attention.

6 Facts About Homelessness in Qatar

  1. As a result of the economic boom during the last 40 years in this small nation in the Middle East, Qatar has gone on a massive building spree. To maintain this rapid pace of building, the country has relied primarily on migrant immigrants to help construct the city. These migrant workers have been subjected to repulsive conditions. Worse yet, the Qatari government could historically do more when it comes to basic human needs for these vulnerable, migrant workers.
  2. Many migrant workers, unable to afford accommodation, sleep at the construction sites in which they work. The companies that sponsor these migrant workers for construction projects in the city do not provide sufficient wages. Furthermore, these same employers do not provide any type of housing to support thousands of workers. Therefore, many migrant workers end up sleeping outside.
  3. An Amnesty International report on the construction of the future FIFA World Cup site in Qatar looked into the mistreatment of these migrant workers. Most notably, the report focused on migrant workers’ unfair treatment concerning housing securement. The report identified multiple individuals who were priced out of their affordable rental housing, due to their company delaying salary payments.
  4. Those who are homeless in Qatar face consequences from all angles of society. The government often views these workers as expendable — thrown into subjugated parts of society and subject to threats from criminals and police alike. These actors take advantage of the migrant workers already poor situation. Without proper living conditions, living on the streets can be quite difficult, especially if one lacks the required documentation and visas.
  5. The government of Qatar has been investing in improving labor conditions for workers. In addition, the government is addressing homelessness in Qatar, more broadly. Encampments like “Labour City,” funded by the State of Qatar’s private engineering office, is an area designed to house over 100,000 migrant workers. The new residences are significant improvements from previous accommodations. Some features of these new residences including access to the internet, green spaces and larger living areas — a far cry from a life on the streets.
  6. Private firms have also been investing in migrant laborers’ living conditions. Barwa Al Baraha, a subsidiary of a private property management business in Qatar, has built residences that can house up to 53,000 people in significantly improved living conditions.

Protecting Vulnerable Populations

While the nation of Qatar has experienced economic success in recent decades, there is no guarantee that the fruits of this success will be distributed equitably. In contrast, some marginalized and vulnerable populations (e.g., migrant workers) within Qatari society are at a higher risk of exploitation, simply due to their life circumstances. Through a concerted effort from both public and private initiatives, labor and living conditions for migrant workers are improving in Qatar and these efforts must continue.

Zak Schneider
Photo: Wikimedia

U2’s Charity Work
Throughout its career, the band U2 has played for tens of thousands of people and gained millions of fans worldwide. The band’s influence, however, has gone beyond its music, as it has impacted millions of people with its charity work. Various members have done both individual charity work as well as work through the band. The band members’ collaborative efforts include poverty relief, disaster relief and health and human rights work. This article will highlight a few important instances of U2’s charity work.

Bono’s Work With ONE & RED

ONE is a campaign that Bono, U2’s lead singer and other activists co-founded. The campaign’s aim is to fight extreme poverty and preventable diseases. In order to achieve this goal, Bono has personally met with heads of state and lobbied governments to pass legislation. Grassroots efforts and ONE’s lobbying for legislation have saved millions of lives over the last 10 years through newly funded government policies. Bono also co-founded RED, an organization that raises awareness and funds to help fight the AIDS crisis. RED has raised $600 million to date, which primarily goes toward AIDS treatment and prevention in Africa.

Disaster Relief Concerts

Throughout U2’s existence, it has played numerous concerts and events to raise money for various disaster relief benefits. In 1984, Bono and U2 bassist Adam Clayton performed at Band Aid, and in 1985, U2 performed at Live Aid. Both events raised money for famine relief in Ethiopia. The next year, in 1986, the band participated in A Conspiracy of Hope tour on behalf of Amnesty International, an organization that focuses on protecting human rights around the world. That same year, it also performed for Self Aid, which helped the homeless in Ireland. On the 20th anniversary of Live Aid, U2 played the Live 8 concert in London. This concert supported the Make Poverty History campaign.

Other Assorted Charity Work

Beyond Bono’s work with ONE and RED and the band’s charity concerts, U2 has participated in other charitable work. For instance, Bono teamed up with Muhammad Ali in 2000 for Jubilee 2000, which called for the cancelation of third world debt. Bono also founded the organization DATA, which aims to improve the political, financial and social state of those living in Africa. Bono has visited Africa on numerous occasions in an attempt to raise funds and awareness for AIDS relief. Additionally, the band donated all of the proceeds from the release of its song “Sweetest Thing” to Chernobyl Children International, which works to give those the 1986 Cherynobl accident affected medical and economic help. Most recently, U2 donated €10 million for personal protective equipment for healthcare workers on the frontline fighting COVID-19.

U2 has impacted millions of people around the world, not just with its music, but with its charity as well. U2’s charity work has helped millions of people around the world. In particular, Bono’s work with ONE and RED has helped fight against poverty and the AIDS epidemic. The band has also worked together, using its music directly by playing a variety of concerts to raise money for important causes. Even as the world grapples with the devastating effects of COVID-19, U2 has continued providing people in need with generous humanitarian aid.

Zachary Laird
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Five Examples of Police Brutality InternationallyProtests in the United States are bringing light to a troubling issue which has taken lives for generations: police brutality. However, police brutality affects almost every country in the world. Wherever there is a police force, there is the potential for police brutality. Here are five examples that demonstrate police brutality internationally.

5 Examples of Police Brutality Internationally

  1. Kenya: Police officers in Kenya often accept bribes. Not only that, but police often accuse, imprison or even kill those who cannot offer a bribe. Police officers demanding bribes disproportionately affect poor Kenyans. Kenyans in poverty are often unable to pay police and can experience detainment without probable cause for an indefinite period of time. Additionally, police frequently get away with assaulting or murdering citizens without suffering legal repercussions themselves. On June 8, 2020, citizens took to the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, to protest the police brutality that police employed when enforcing curfews during the COVID-19-related lockdown.
  2. Hong Kong: During the protests for democracy in 2019, widespread human rights violations occurred at the hands of the Hong Kong police, largely without repercussions. The brutality included improper use of rubber bullets, which have a design so that police can fire them at the ground before they bounce and hit people. Also, there was a misuse of bean bag rounds, the physical beating of nonviolent protesters, misuse of tear gas and pepper spray and the use of water canons. In some cases, detained protesters experienced subjection to severe beatings that amounted to torture. As a result, there has been a call for an inquiry into the police’s use of violence from an impartial and independent source as opposed to an internal investigation.
  3. Philippines: Since 2016, the drug war that Philippine Director General Oscar Albayalde waged has resulted in thousands of deaths. The killers, including police and independent gangs of men on motorcycles reportedly affiliated with the police, have not experienced legal action. Law enforcement killed more than 12,000 people during the drug war, and Human Rights Watch has urged Albayabe to consider the rights of the population. Frequently, police executions of citizens result from drugs that police plant on citizens, compounding the injustice. Some have called the drug war in the Philippines a “war on the poor” because it discriminates against the urban poor. Robberies often follow police killings of the urban poor. By targeting vulnerable populations, crooked police are able to commit extrajudicial crimes.
  4. Pakistan: Police brutality also affects the people of Pakistan. A particularly unjust example of this is the death of Salahuddin Ayabi, a person with mental disabilities, who went into police custody for an armed robbery. The police severely tortured him and ended his life. In Pakistan, police have killed hundreds of detained people by means of torture. The police often produce false testimonies and plant evidence on people before detaining them and sometimes murdering them. The Punjabi government has proposed legislative reform. However, some argue that the problem is not the legislation itself but the lack of proper implementation to hold police accountable. Impoverished Pakistanis are a targeted demographic, experiencing subjection to extrajudicial killings, detainment and police torture.
  5. El Salvador: Between 2014 and 2018 in El Salvador, police killed at least 116 people. To put this in perspective, El Salvador’s population is 6.421 million, about three-fourths of New York City population. Raquel Caballero described these killings as “brutal assassinations” in an interview with Reuters. The brutal actions of the police seem to correlate to the gang violence which plagues El Salvador, as many victims are gang members. Of the 48 cases of extrajudicial murders committed by police, only 19 officers experienced prosection and only two received convictions. El Salvador’s murder rate is one of the highest in the world, but some argue that should not excuse police officers to act in such a brutal manner. Additionally, women from high-poverty areas suffer from police brutality as a result of scant reproductive rights. For instance, women who seek abortions, even for obstetric emergencies, often suffer prosecution.

The examination of police brutality internationally by groups like the U.N., Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International is crucial in maintaining awareness of the pervasiveness of this problem. Perhaps the organizations which prosecute guilty police officers worldwide will emerge victorious in their efforts. Police need to meet the same standards as the populations they serve.

Elise Ghitman
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in North Korea
To research healthcare in North Korea is to perform a balancing act with government information, witness testimonies and internationally funded research. While the North Korean government provides free healthcare under the socialist government that Kim Il Sung implemented, famine, lack of resources and lack of education make this socialist paradise seem like a distant dream to most North Koreans.

The Problems

According to multiple North Korean refugees, the free healthcare policy applies only to the uppermost classes living in Pyongyang. These people are the ones that the Kim dynasty hand-picked as its favorites. These citizens come from long lineages of people devoted to the socialist regime, and as a reward, they receive the benefit of free healthcare. The majority of North Korean citizens, however, have to pay not only for medical procedures but also have to supply medical instruments and medications needed for most procedures. Most hospitals have no heating or electricity.

Although other countries and international organizations provide aid to North Korea, much of the medical supplies they provide end up in the hands of merchants who sell them for inflated prices. Many North Koreans bypass hospitals altogether and instead buy medical advice from street vendors in the markets. For many, this is often cheaper and safer than going to a hospital.

Because state-run hospitals are so expensive and unreliable, many North Koreans turn to doctors and surgeons who practice illegally and discreetly in their own homes. These doctors provide resources, expertise and convenience not found in government hospitals.

The Solutions

The state of free healthcare in North Korea took a heavy blow when famines ravaged the country throughout the 1990s. Since then, the country has become increasingly accepting of international aid and advice. Officials in the Ministry of Public Health and at Kim Il Sung University are beginning to admit the country’s health challenges to the outside world. A study that the United Nations conducted in 2019 estimated that over 43% of North Koreans suffer from malnourishment. Another study that North Korea’s Ministry of Public Health conducted showed that the prevalence of tuberculosis has been increasing for the past 25 years. In 2016, estimates determined that 640 per 100,000 people suffer from tuberculosis. Luckily, some nonprofits are attempting to improve healthcare in North Korea. Here are three organizations working to provide sustainable medical aid and healthcare to North Korea.

  • Amnesty International conducted research into the healthcare system in North Korea in 2010. It found that North Korea spent less than $1 per person per year on healthcare, less than any other country in the world. Amnesty International continues to urge countries to increase aid to North Korea based on need rather than political considerations.
  • UNICEF’s work with the North Korean healthcare system divides into three sections: health, nutrition, water sanitation and hygiene. It has implemented the Integrated Management of Newborn Illnesses (IMNIC) program in 50 counties, providing the residents with medicine kits and training 5,000 doctors per county to provide basic curative services. UNICEF has also partnered with the North Korean Ministry of Public Health to treat severely and acutely malnourished children.
  • The Gavi Vaccine Alliance has provided North Korea with more than $12 million in aid. It focusses primarily on strengthening the existing healthcare system and providing vaccines and equipment to local facilities. Because of these vaccinations, there have been no reported cases of measles in North Korea since April 2007.  Together, Gavi and UNICEF have provided equipment transport vehicles for every county in the country.

Healthcare in North Korea is far from being free and accessible to everyone. However, by being open with the outside world about the dire nature of their health challenges and allowing international aid, North Korea has taken the first few steps to create a brighter future for the health of its people.

Caroline Warrick-Schkolnik
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

COVID-19 in Colombia
Officials have reported 16,295 cases of COVID-19 in Colombia and 592 deaths as of May 19, 2020. In an effort to contain the virus, the government has closed all international travel. It has also recently extended its nationwide stay-at-home order through May 25. Testing is available at the Colombian National Institute of Health facilities.

Most public locations remain closed. Individuals over the age of 70 will need to self-isolate until at least the end of May 2020. Municipal authorities allow one hour per day of exercise, at prescribed times, for individuals ages 18 to 60. Though the virus poses a nationwide public health threat, here are three particularly at-risk groups in Colombia.

COVID-19 in Colombia: 3 At-Risk Groups

  1. Indigenous Peoples: With historically limited access to food, shelter and health care, indigenous communities on the outskirts of cities and towns remain unprepared for the pandemic. A scarcity of clean water and hygiene products has left many without the means to maintain personal cleanliness and prevent infection. In addition, some of these semi-nomadic groups are now at risk of starvation. Due to quarantine restrictions, indigenous communities cannot move around to access their means of subsistence. They may be unable to grow their own food or survive by working temporary jobs. Organizations such as Amnesty International (AI) are working to raise awareness about this urgent issue and garner support from Colombian authorities. Along with the organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Colombian Ministry of the Interior, AI petitioned the government to deliver food and supplies to at-risk indigenous groups. In response to these efforts, Colombian officials initiated a campaign to provide indigenous communities with food and supplies. The first round of deliveries went out in April 2020 but still left many without aid. AI and partner organizations will continue working with leaders of the campaign to reach more people in future deliveries.
  2. Refugees: Venezuelan refugees are another group at high risk due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Colombia. The virus has compounded instability from low wages and rampant homelessness. Many have lost temporary jobs as economic concerns heighten nationwide. With fear and social unrest on the rise, refugees also face increased stigmatization. Some states, for example, are forcibly returning refugees in response to the virus. The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Migrant Organization (IOM) have instigated a call to action. Eduardo Stein, joint UNHCR-IOM Special Representative for refugees and migrants from Venezuela, explained in an April 2020 statement that “COVID-19 has brought many aspects of life to a standstill – but the humanitarian implications of this crisis have not ceased and our concerted action remains more necessary than ever.” U.N. representatives are seeking out innovative ways to protect Colombia’s migrant population and provide refugees with information, clean water and sanitation. Some organizations have also set up isolation and observation spaces for those who have tested positive. Others, including the World Health Organization (WHO), are distributing food and supplies to refugees and their host communities.
  3. Coffee Farmers: As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout South America and the world, Colombian coffee farmers are grappling with new economic uncertainties. Since extreme terrain limits the use of mechanized equipment, these farmers tend to rely on manual labor. In a typical year, some farms hire between 40% and 50% of their workforce from migrant populations. Now, however, travel restrictions have left many with a shortage of manpower. Large-scale farms are seeking out unemployed retail and hospitality workers from local areas, offering pay rates at a 10% to 20% increase. On smaller farms, family members can manage the crops. However, medium-sized operations, in desperate need of labor and unable to match the wages of larger competitors, are feeling a significant strain. Even the largest farms could struggle to meet their expected harvest in 2020. Public health officials have ordered strict distancing measures in the fields, which reduces picking capacity. Though disruptive in the short term, these efforts should help contain the spread of the virus and allow farmers to resume full operation as soon as possible.

COVID-19 in Colombia has undergone rapid growth, bringing economic and social challenges in its train. Now more than ever, it is incumbent upon world leaders to support vulnerable populations in Colombia and help the nation emerge from this world crisis.

– Katie Painter
Photo: Flickr

how to help people fleeing violence in central america
Central America is currently facing a growing and uncontrollable issue of violence and corruption. Many innocent civilians, in search of more stable living conditions, have decided to attempt to escape the devastating violence of the region. However, considering the various situations in nations like Venezuela and Colombia worsening, a large number of migrants are journeying toward the safety of the United States. In recent years, violence has run rampant in Central America and, specifically, the Northern Triangle (the region comprised of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras). Drug cartels and gangs have taken over, perpetuating corruption and violence that has crippled the region’s economy and political stability. The situation seems bleak, but here is how to help people fleeing violence in Central America.

Violence in the Northern Triangle

First, it is crucial to understand the violence occurring in the Northern Triangle. Specifically, two well-known gangs are to blame for much of the violence and conflict in the region. MS-13 and Barrio 18 have grown to control most of the crime and extortion rackets in Central America. These criminal organizations heavily involve themselves in drug trafficking as well, increasing the prevalence of violence and death in the region. According to InSight Crime, a foundation that focuses on the analysis of crime and threats to national and citizen security and safety, 47.4 percent of homicides in Guatemala in 2015 related to gangs or organized crime. On top of that, 49 percent of other homicides had unknown motives and perpetrators between 2012 and 2015.

The third country comprising the Northern Triangle, El Salvador, has also fallen victim to this festering cycle of violence and crime. Since 2015, gang violence alone has resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 people in El Salvador, and to this day, innocent civilians are still trying to flee this volatility and corruption.

How Organizations are Helping

That said, there is still hope for the desperate refugees who have been displaced from the region. Organizations like The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Amnesty International have developed programs by which people can donate money and garner support for the humanitarian crisis in Central America. UNHCR and Amnesty International have done extensive work to analyze migrations from the Northern Triangle, chronicling why and how people are fleeing from the region. The organizations have also called upon various nations and leaders, such as the United States, to provide more aid to this desperate region through financial appeals processes and garnering support from the general public.

How Anyone Can Help

Those looking for how to help people fleeing violence in Central America can do so by emailing and calling their local representatives in Congress in support of the rejection of any proposed cuts to foreign assistance going to the Northern Triangle countries in Central America. It is as easy as sending an email or making a quick phone call, but the impact of these small gestures can have tremendous effects on policymakers, as they all must consider the ideas and sentiments of their constituents.

By reaching out to policymakers and creating more awareness regarding this growing issue, foreign aid will eventually reach the Northern Triangle. Though the proliferation of political instability and gang violence in the region makes for a bleak situation, foreign aid facilitated by active public engagement can have a positive impact on the people fleeing violence in Central America.

– Ethan Marchetti
Photo: Flickr

fourngoadvocacygroups
When it comes to encouraging global change, advocacy groups are an essential piece of the puzzle. Advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations (NGO) are organizations that support a cause politically, legally, or through other means of facilitation. In the fight against global poverty, and many other worldwide maladies, here are four NGO advocacy groups.

Advocates for International Development

Advocates for International Development, otherwise known as Lawyers Eradicating Poverty, is an advocacy group and charity that supports global change through a legal lens. This organization recognizes that developing nations may not have proper access to legal expertise and that in order to secure sustainable development, legal services need to be available everywhere.

Advocates for International Development provides pro bono legal advice, access to lawyers and law firms, law and development training programs and many more legal services. This organization’s reach has spread to over 100 legal jurisdictions worldwide, with a network of over 53,000 lawyers at the NGO’s disposal.

With its goals based on recent U.N. initiatives, Advocates for International Development aims to see the world ridden of extreme poverty by 2030.

MADRE

MADRE advocates for female involvement in policy-making and legislative decisions worldwide. MADRE also provides grants and donations to smaller women’s advocacy groups, having donated over $52 million to those groups since MADRE’s founding in 1983. This organization recognizes unequal representation in legal processes across the globe and fights to ensure that society hears all voices.

MADRE also works alongside the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law to provide quality legal services to women in need. Together, these entities use law-based advocacy to ensure the international security of human rights and to correct any human rights violations.

As of 2019, MADRE and CUNY School of Law have drafted a successful treaty, demanding the redefinition of gender in the eyes of the United Nations General Assembly’s Sixth Committee. This redefinition will pose to protect the rights of all genders in future international human rights disputes.

The Global Health Council

The Global Health Council advocates for global health awareness and legislation to pass through the U.S. Congress. On top of securing strong global health policies, this organization focuses on preventing premature death in children and adolescents worldwide. The Global Health Council also facilitates smaller organizations, working with them to achieve goals beyond the scope of U.S. Congress.

The Global Health Council is one of the world’s largest membership-based global health advocacy groups. This organization has over 100,000 members, with branches in over 150 countries. With the help of the Global Health Council and all its members, infant mortality has reduced by 50 percent worldwide and maternal mortality has reduced by 43 percent.

Amnesty International

Amnesty International is an NGO that advocates for the international security of basic human rights. Amnesty International gathers its information through direct research, sending crisis response teams across regions worldwide to record and report human rights violations. From this organization’s research, activists gain the necessary fuel to push for the protection of human rights everywhere.

One of the world’s largest grassroots human rights organization, Amnesty International has more than seven million members and offices in more than seventy nations. For upwards of fifty years, this organization has been an essential consultant to the United Nations for international human rights policies.

Amnesty International has made major humanitarian strides, such as helping free 153 falsely imprisoned people worldwide in 2018 alone, and influence international laws surrounding refugees, the death penalty and many other human rights issues.

There are countless more organizations worldwide fighting to make the world a better place. These four NGO advocacy groups are just a few examples of what public support and mobilization can achieve.

– Suzette Shultz
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

corruption in tajikistan
Tajikistan is a small country in Central Asia with a population of 8.92 million people. Corruption in Tajikistan is widespread and infiltrates all levels of society. Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan, has been in power since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. There is almost no political renewal and a small number of the elite class control political and economic relations.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) made a report on corruption in Tajikistan which found that anti-corruption legislation and institutions lack funding and support in the country. The report also found that there have been no major improvements introduced to Tajik legislation to combat corruption as international standards require.

Daily Corruption

Corruption in Tajikistan affects people on a day to day basis, whether dealing with police, traffic guards or even public services. A public opinion survey that UNDP and the Centre for Strategic Studies conducted in 2010 found that 70 percent of the respondents had either paid a bribe or wanted to despite an inability to afford it. The survey showed that farmers and entrepreneurs are the two segments of society that are most vulnerable to petty, day to day corruption.

Citizens suffer daily police corruption that the large networks of organized crime and drug trafficking in the region only heighten. Some view the police and traffic guards as some of the most corrupt state institutions in the country. The same public opinion survey found that 90 percent of the respondents recognized that they experienced corruption when stopped by traffic guards and that these confrontations happen regularly. Traffic corruption can include an authority pulling someone over for speeding, asking them to pay a bribe to avoid a ticket and threatening jail time if the individual does not pay the bribe. Traffic guards will stop people for speeding even if they were at the speed limit, simply to pocket bribed money.

Political Corruption

Political corruption in Tajikistan is also widespread. All of its elections since gaining independence from the Soviet Union do not qualify as democratic electoral processes as international organizations such as the United Nations observed. The Tajik government functions heavily on patronage networks and family ties. Many of the President’s family members and allies hold political positions. For example, his son, Rustam Emomali, is the mayor of Dushanbe and is among the top 10 most influential individuals in Tajikistan.

Solutions

The Tajik government has taken some steps to combat domestic corruption that infiltrates all levels of society. For example, it adopted the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and anti-corruption legislation. The country still lacks many important factors that are essential to cracking down on corruption such as widespread access to information and an independent audit agency, however, international pressures could greatly improve political corruption in the country.

The OECD is an international organization with a mission to work with governments to construct policies that improve the lives of individuals. It is currently working with the Tajik government to come up with corruption fighting legislation. Amnesty International has also called out the Tajik government for its human rights abuses such as the persecution of LGBTQ members and the censoring of human rights activists. Amnesty does not currently have an office in Tajikistan, however, its media campaigns garnered support from activists and foreign governments such as Norway and Denmark.

Further Measures

Further pressures such as sanctions, naming and shaming techniques and advocacy have the potential to greatly reduce corruption in Tajikistan. If economically advantaged countries such as the U.S. placed pressure on Tajikistan to increase anti-corruption legislation and measures, it could vastly increase the quality of life for the citizens of Tajikistan. Naming and shaming is a method that nonprofit and international organizations use to call out a country or organization for unethical practices, which can pressure the Tajik government to crackdown on debasement. Lastly, advocacy and educational campaigns can increase awareness of the issue and also increase the supply of information about corruption in Tajikistan both to its citizens and the international community.

– Laura Phillips-Alvarez
Photo: Flickr


Now, more than ever, the world is becoming more interconnected. While the new societal and political inter-dependencies are obvious, even fields like manufacturing are a part of this trend. One product serves as a glaring example of this phenomenon: the smartphone. This hand-sized piece of technology has a shocking amount of components from a shocking number of places. Tech giant Apple sources materials from nearly 45 countries to make its products. While global interconnectedness can certainly be a positive thing, especially in worldwide manufacturing arrangements, at-risk communities in this process can pay a price. Though there is potential for exploitation at many stages of production, it is especially bad at the raw materials stage. Mining toxic minerals like nickel, cadmium and cobalt can come at a high cost to human health. Unfortunately, the production of smartphones harms children in poverty.

To explore the specific threats to child laborers, it is helpful to focus in on one microcosm within the larger mining industry. One particularly harmful mineral in cell phone production is cobalt. Largely mined by hand, cobalt is a silvery-gray metal that people use for many different products, including metal alloys in jet engines and powerful magnets. It is also common in lithium-ion batteries, which are rechargeable energy sources that power mobile devices. The rise in the prevalence of electric cars, which use the same technology, means the demand for cobalt is only rising.

What Conditions Do Children Face?

While countries like Russia and Cuba produce this ore, workers mine more than 50 percent of the world’s cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Due to this high rate of production, most of the exploitation in cobalt mines occur in this country. As mine operators struggle to keep up with demand, the poverty rate in the DRC stands at nearly 65 percent.  That means that many desperate people are willing to work in dangerous conditions for hardly any money.

In January 2016, Amnesty International published an investigation into human rights abuses in the DRC’s cobalt mines and it found horrifying conditions. Workers face permanent lung and skin damage, as well as immediate physical harm from cave-ins and other accidents. Not only that, but the investigation also found children as young as 7 years old employed in these conditions. This is how the production of smartphones harms children in poverty.

Children told Amnesty International that for 12 hours of work, they could expect to earn only $1 or 2. When government or industry authorities visited mines, supervisors order the children to hide or stay away from the mines for a few days so others would not spot them. These poor conditions and ill-policed regulations are the reasons why cobalt is known as “the blood diamond of batteries.”

How Can People Fix This Problem?

Some companies have taken the initiative to reduce child exploitation, especially in the years following the 2016 Amnesty International report. Electric car-maker Tesla and its battery provider, Panasonic, have worked hard to pursue cobalt-free battery alternatives. These companies managed to cut cobalt use by 60 percent in six years. However, current technologies have reached their limits. Removing more cobalt will start to pose a longevity problem, as well as a fire-risk.

Because cobalt will remain in use for at least the near future, it is essential to protect impoverished child workers. Most simply, because this issue seems far away, it is easy to forget its gravity. For that reason, remembering the power of consumer impact is important. Pay attention to how companies operate and support businesses that perform the necessary due diligence to run responsibly.

For example, Apple, like many large tech and development companies, has a website with details about the ethics of its supply chain. Read up on brands’ efforts, and make sure to voice any concerns (or potentially, any support) at a website like this one.

What Can People Do to Make a Personal Impact?

Direct habits also make a difference. Try to avoid buying new electronic devices if possible. There are many websites, such as Gazelle, where customers can buy like-new phones to prevent the need for mining new cobalt. Additionally, if a device bites the dust, consider recycling its components. While lithium-ion batteries cannot go into the usual blue recycling bins, resources like this one at call2recycle can help identify the most convenient option.

Lastly, consider learning more and keeping up with the latest news on the Cobalt Institute’s website. This group is a non-governmental trade association that provides information and assists in identifying and solving problems in the cobalt industry. With 62 years of experience and all of the major producers in membership, this group has great influence in these matters.

While today, the production of smartphones harms children in poverty, improving conditions are just around the corner. With responsible choices, better supply chain management and technical innovations, this problem could soon be one of the past.

– Molly Power
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

why are more people crossing the border
In early 2019, Congress approved a humanitarian aid plan for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Nevertheless, the political crisis of migrant treatment and their arrival to the U.S. continues. In February 2019, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to obtain funding for his planned border wall. He has repeatedly called the situation at the U.S. border an invasion. The question remains: why are more people crossing the border?

People should note, however, that the number of border apprehensions dropped by 28 percent in the course of a month. The number decreased from the apprehension of an estimated 120,000 plus people in May 2019 to an estimated 80,000 plus people in June 2019.

In the past, most of the undocumented immigrants found in the U.S. southern border were single men from Mexico. Recently, most immigrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border are families coming from countries in Central America’s Northern Triangle, namely Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. These countries have severe instabilities. The number of people from these three nations applying for asylum around the world has increased seven-fold since 2010.

High Murder Rates in the Northern Triangle

High murder rates are a reason why more people have been leaving the Northern Triangle. Murder rates in the area have been considerably higher than in other areas, like the U.S. or Europe. These numbers peak at approximately 108.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in El Salvador and 63.8 in Honduras. Residents of Honduras also face extortion as criminals may kill them if they do not pay a war tax.

Many families try to seek asylum in Mexico to escape these murders. Nevertheless, the number of migrants at the Mexican border tell a similar story to that of the U.S. border. The number of deportations from Mexico back to the Northern Triangle has considerably increased between 2014 and 2015.

Poverty and Migration

Another reason for the rise in migrants at the southern border in recent years has been economic imperatives. Most recent migrants hail from impoverished regions such as the western highlands of Guatemala, in search of a life better suited to raising a family.

Everyday life in the area beckons land rights conflicts, environmental instabilities and depressed prices for their crop, which undermines the ability of citizens to make a living for their family. Nearly 70 percent of Honduras’ population lives in poverty. In Guatemala, nearly 60 percent live in poverty.

Gangs and Drug Cartels

In the Northern Triangle, drug cartels and gangs are a part of everyday life and threaten national and personal security. Violent groups often impose informal curfews, make absurd tax demands and recruit youth against their will. After the fight between in Mexican government and former drug boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, many other groups moved into the drug trade, leading to the killings of many innocent people in the country. In 2018, the number of people who made claims of credible fear and asked for asylum at the U.S. border skyrocketed to 92,000, compared to 55,000 claims in 2017.

Thousands of immigrants are facing the impossible choice of living in constant fear or seeking asylum, risking the possibility of detainment for indefinite periods or deportation back to their home nations where they risk a violent death.

No More Deaths

Illegal border crossing should not be a death sentence. No More Deaths, or No Más Muertes, is a humanitarian organization based in southern Arizona that is dedicated to stepping up efforts to stop migrant deaths in the desert. The organization works in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands through the civil initiative.

It is crucial for every American citizen to realize that migrants are not entering the United States because they want to, but because they have to. Entering the detention centers at the southern border comes after a perilous journey. Migrants ride trains where gang members demand tolls of upwards of $100 per station. Gang members kidnap more than 20,000 migrants in these situations.

Action is imperative to help people crossing the border as countless lives depend on it. Nevertheless, it is possible for individuals to help. Individuals can volunteer with organizations such as No More Deaths to provide food, advocacy and mapping efforts. They can also use their voice and email Congress through The Borgen Project’s website. Lastly, it is important for all citizens to educate themselves about migrants, their treatment in detention centers and why more people are crossing the border, even when circumstances seem dire.

– Monique Santoso
Photo: Flickr