I remember getting my first phone – I was 13. For my second phone I managed to persuade my parents to allow me to buy the Nokia 3310 – the phone to have at the time. All my friends had one, and I’d been lamenting about not being able to join in ‘the snake game’ competitions in the playground. My best friend had reached level six.
A few years and several phones on, I acquired my first smartphone a year ago and I’m not sure I could ever go back. At a fingertip’s touch I can tweet, Facebook, access my emails (all three inboxes) and Google-map my destination. My phone is the perfect distraction on the bus, clutching it when walking home in the dark makes me feel safe, and as my morning alarm it’s the first thing I hear when I wake up…
But on 30 June I’ve been challenged to do a phone fast – that is to abstain from all use of my phone for a whole 24 hours.
And I’m already making dozens of excuses as to why it won’t be convenient: ‘That week is particularly busy, and anyway, my cousin’s coming to visit – what if I run late to meet her and can’t let her know?’ How stressful!
Could it be that I’m addicted to my phone? I certainly fit the dictionary’s description “of being habitually or compulsively occupied with or involved in something.” (As I write, I notice I’ve checked my phone about five times in the last 10 minutes.)
Recently, I’ve learnt that this addiction of mine is helping to fund a scheme of violence and rape in one of the most naturally wealthy and beautiful countries in the world – the Democratic Republic of Congo. In other words, as some have put it, ‘there’s blood on my mobile phone’. There’s blood on yours too.
Over the past 15 years Congo has been home to the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II. Profit from its wealth of precious minerals has been a fundamental driver of the conflict and violence. Armed groups secure control of mines where child labour and dangerous working conditions are the order of the day. The minerals fund more weapons for more conflict, and the whole hideous cycle continues. Mass rape has been used as weapon of war for a generation.
And the majority of these blood minerals such as coltan (short for columbite–tantalite) eventually wind up in our electronic devices. Major electronic companies are reluctant to increase transparency in the supply chain, and so there is no way to ensure that every time we buy a new phone, its very lifeblood isn’t tainted.
But then there’s this silence – deadly silence. In 15 years, nothing has been done.
When Fairtrade marked products are increasingly common on the supermarket shelves, when major stores are tripping over themselves to show the world their ethical colours, why is it still impossible to find a guaranteed ethical phone?
Why have we, the consumers, been so slow to speak out?
Perhaps it’s ignorance – I hadn’t even heard of the mineral coltan until recently. But perhaps it was also convenient for me not to find out. I need my smartphone. I’m addicted.
So that’s where my challenge comes in. I’m hoping my 24 hour phone fast as part of the Micah Challenge Your Call campaign – pitiful as it may sound – will be good for me and my addiction. As groups in the Congoalso take part in the phone fast, I’m hoping it will help us feel a few steps less removed from one another, as we unite in prayer for an end to the tangled web of greed and corruption which has implications for us all. We will also make a few more people aware of the grave consequences of our phone purchases, and stirred to speak out.
As Kate Coleman puts it: “Fasts are ‘designed to sensitise our hearts towards God’s purposes – the things on God’s heart which are so often invisible to us.” So let’s show victims of violence in Congo that we see them. Let’s declare to our phone manufacturers that we want our phones to be conflict-free. You can take these three actions as part of the Your Call campaign:
1. Take one minute to ask electronic industry leaders to make more of an effort to source conflict-free minerals by increasing transparency in the supply chain.
2. Do a phone fast on 30 June and let your friends know.
3. Consider pre-ordering a FairPhone. Released around September, these will be the first ever-guaranteed ‘fairtrade’ phones. The aim of this Dutch company is to ‘redefine the economy’.
Until 30 June … (I’ve set a reminder on my phone).