I happened to tune to part of an episode of NPR’s Fresh Air program that caught my attention while I was driving home a few days back. They were talking about slavery in the world today. I was shocked for a couple of reasons. The first was the realization that an institution that people have for a long time recognized as being abhorrent, and have condemned in the civilized world, still exists today. In spite of all the technological and social advances in the world we have not found a way to uplift the life of so many people in all parts of the world. In fact inequality probably exists to a far greater extent today than it ever did before. Would you believe that the statistics indicate that there are more than 20 million “slaves” in the world today?
The second reason for my shock was the realization that a significant component of today’s slavery is due to the western world. In our quest for cheaper goods and certain luxuries that we take for granted, we accept whatever process provides us with our quality of lives with our eyes closed, and do not question how such a situation can come to be. There has already been some publicity about how inexpensive clothes that are available in the west are sometimes created on the backs of exploited children in third-world countries. But there are other aspects of our comfortable lives that are also dependent on the lives of exploited people. I learned from the show that some of the rarer metals (cobalt , tantalum, etc.,) used in devices such as our smart phones for components like batteries and capacitors can come from slave mines in West Africa. Folks, these are not just exploited people, they are real slaves with no freedom to live as they want. The vendors manufacturing these products may actually not even know how exactly the raw material that goes into their products is obtained. We, the consumers, are quite thrilled with getting a new, and very often subsidized, smartphone every other year for an inexpensive price from the service provider. We consume so much of the product that the demand for the raw material cannot always be met by legitimate means. There are consequences!
Think about it. We are in the 21st century, and some of us have been fortunate to be able to live in circumstances where we do not have to worry about the basic necessities, and where we take a lot of what would be considered luxuries for granted, while at the same time there are people who are slaves who have nothing! And if one is the cause for the continued existence of the other, humanity should be ashamed of itself.
But, surprisingly to me, I did find quite a bit of information while searching the Internet about this subject. There is even a Wikipedia article on the topic. There are organizations and people that are trying to bring attention to the problem. There are people in this world with a conscience. Here is one such link.