I bought a product almost certainly produced in part with slavery.

February 12, 2024 by Joshua
in Freedom

I’m not proud but I’m not going to hide it either. I’m like everyone else: I live in a culture that relies on slavery. I try to minimize my contribution to it. I see publicizing the situation as helping change it. Each time you bought a cell phone, laptop, or electric vehicle, you bought goods almost certainly produced using slavery, possibly without realizing it. I’d like to help change our culture to end such practices.

If you haven’t listened to my podcast episode with Siddharth Kara or read his book Cobalt Red, I can’t recommend them enough. If you find anything I write here offensive, read Cobalt Red before judging. If you find I wrote something wrong in this post, let me know. Here are a couple reviews of the book for a quick overview: one from the NY Times and another at the LA Times, but I’d start by listing to him directly in my podcast.

Kara reports that rechargeable batteries today designed to minimize weight—particularly cars, phones, computers—use cobalt and the chances are very high that that cobalt was mined and processed with slave labor.

My computer battery capacity was down to about ten percent. Just checking email would drain the battery in about thirty minutes. So I bought a new battery for the computer. I had bought the one I replaced a year or two ago when the one before malfunctioned and stopped working completely.

There is no way of telling the source of any cobalt, least of all what companies selling the batteries say, including Apple, Tesla, Samsung, and their peers. As best I can tell, since buying from well-known companies doesn’t help, the second best way I see to minimize funding slavery through buying cobalt is to minimize how much we spend. I don’t see how spending more through a big company would help people enslaved, but I do see how the companies’ increased profits would prompt them to increase slave operations.

The best way I see to minimize funding slavery is to avoid buying slave-produced goods, or minimize buying them as much as possible.

At least with cell phones, I haven’t bought a new one for ten years or so. Still, I bought new batteries two or three times.

Buying an electric vehicle

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