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Horrors of Unethical IT Overconsumption

New Book Exposes Hidden Human Horrors of Unethical IT Overconsumption

Procurri has long warned about the dangers of the unethical export of e-waste as well as the environmental risks that dumping hardware when no longer required can cause. And while indeed such impacts on the environment from ITAD must be considered, there too remains a human cost to poor IT management; and a new book is set to expose just some of this.

When businesses simply replace hardware because they are able to procure a newer available model, they contribute toward the overconsumption of such IT assets. While Procurri continues to promote the avoidance of such an issue through the use of Third Party Maintenance and the purchase of refurbished hardware, it, unfortunately, remains a vast risk to communities worldwide.

The Reality of Cobalt Mining

One such community is those in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which houses the world’s largest natural resource of cobalt. Cobalt is mined here before being exported to China and other Asian countries for refinement and manufacture before it is inserted into the likes of laptops, smartphones, servers, and even electric vehicles. The mines of cobalt are worked by impoverished communities and even children: whose despair and appalling working conditions are documented in the new book ‘Cobalt Red: How The Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives’, written by Siddhartha Kara, a lecturer at Harvard University.

Kara paints a damning picture of the desperate demand for cobalt and the strain this puts on the communities living near such mines. Photographs included in his book show barefoot children covered in unknown chemicals smashing rocks and new mothers with newborn babies strapped to them sifting through nets of rocks. Describing the “moral clock dialed back to colonial times” in these mines, Siddhartha Kara admits “There are hundreds of thousands of the poorest people on the planet mining for cobalt. They’re doing it for $2-a-day and for them, it’s the difference between whether or not they eat that day, so they don’t have the option of saying no”.

And inhumane conditions alongside unethically low wages aren’t the only risk. It has been medically proven that prolonged exposure to cobalt can lead to deafness, various forms of cancer, lung disease, and birth defects in new babies. As a result, these shocking consequences have been compared to the diamond trade by Kara, who says “This is blood diamonds multiplied by a thousand – diamonds aren’t toxic. And you buy a diamond once, maybe twice, in your life, whereas western society can’t function for more than 24 hours without devices that rely on cobalt”.

The Companies Contributing

Realistically, almost every company that manufactures electronic devices contributes to the use of unethical cobalt mining – because it’s found in just about every such product. However, the ESG protocols and CSR standards of such organizations have brought about some commitment to change. Many of the largest tech enterprises in the world have all included promises and goals to move away from cobalt usage in their products in the future; but for now, it remains a firm fixture.

So how are businesses getting away with such obvious unethical practices throughout their supply chain? For most manufacturing firms, the cobalt is only purchased once it’s been refined, which means it is procured from specialist companies working in this space, who are usually based in China and its surrounding nations. While their standard supply chain code of ethics may apply to the operations of these firms, it does not transcend any further and does not trace back to the origins of the element’s mining. This perceived end of responsibility leaves the manufacturers without the scrutiny of their source.

How Businesses Can Do Better

While indeed there now exists very few businesses that can operate without any technology, and almost all will need to utilize at least one product that includes cobalt in some form, there are actions that can be taken to lower the reliance.

IT assets can be extended in their lifecycles through the use of Third Party Maintenance services once OEMs discontinue their own support services. This allows existing hardware to continue to be used long-term without any service disruption and without the need for the procurement of new assets unnecessarily; helping lower demand for new products.

Furthermore, why buy new at all? With there now being such an influx of hardware available on the market, there’s plenty that functions perfectly despite not being entirely freshly manufactured. Procurri offers new, end-of-life and refurbished hardware supply that’s unrivaled in its distribution availability worldwide and also contributes toward lowering demand for fresh manufacture. All come with warranties and the expert service you’d expect from specialist engineers.

If you’d like more info on how Procurri can help you lower your business’ reliance on cobalt and therefore that on such dangerous mining, get in touch. The team can help work through your supply chain and identify areas for improvement.

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