WE’RE BEING RIPPED OFF, AND IT’S LEGAL
Theft Is Legal: Theft is the action or crime of stealing, taking what doesn’t belong to you. Many kinds of theft are codified in law. Legal theft, it can be argued, is the primary driver of industrial economies worldwide, and the paradox of our time. Legal theft is an issue that we need to recognize and address if we are to improve our world, reducing inequities and injustice.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. Why was it legal to steal land and kill indigenous peoples? Then, turn around and codify it under dubious treaties, which spell out ‘legal boundaries’ of confiscated lands and ownership?
2. How do you feel about killing humans and other species of animals globally by releasing 10 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually, driving global warming?
3. Why are corporate criminals like Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan and Tim Cook, CEO of Apple allowed to go free when Mr. Dimon invested $192 billion dollars in the fossil fuel industry knowing full well the damaging consequences of such actions, and Mr. Cook continues to buy large amounts of cobalt, the mineral used in mobile phone batteries, from sources that he knows utilize child labor for production?
They are not alone, of course. They are just the most obvious criminals by reputation and company size protected by the law. Warren Buffet, chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway a $630 billion conglomerate that he has run for more than 50 years, recently voted to reject shareholder proposals requesting increased transparency on climate change and workforce diversity. Mr. Buffet refused to comment when asked about his vote. He’s not worried; his actions are legal under the law. Mr. Buffet frequently praises Mr. Dimon for the way he runs JPMorgan.
Laws are primarily written to protect the economic system and its fallout. They provide cover and rationale for companies to steal life from living systems. Companies generate negative externalities, damaging impacts, as part of everyday practices but don’t pay for them. What’s new in history is that we have the science and economics to establish guilt and price damage, individually and collectively.
Why are farmers in the Southern portion of the U.S., for example, able to apply tons of fertilizers that have inundated waterways and killed over 7,500 square miles of ocean in the Gulf of Mexico, yet not be sanctioned legally? Reams of solid data are available to demonstrate their complicity and guilt.
Our laws protect the free rides of companies to create destruction because they are shaped and written from the framework of the industry: imagine making it legal for the industry to release acceptable levels of poison—pollution—- into our water supplies and atmosphere daily, or to clear cut forests, as long as they leave 12 trees per acre, with a minimum diameter of 12 inches.
Forestry and mining companies help craft and approve the very laws that govern their behavior. Their influence over laws passed is significant, and yet their activities have managed to avoid the legal definition of conflicts of interest.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was designed with legal guidelines to protect us from industry, a kind of checks and balance mechanism. The EPA has listed over 85,000 chemicals as toxic substances with less than 10% accounted for in the environment or approved. The agency, according to its statements, has no idea how the majority of chemicals impact us, nor does its body of laws help control what appears to be legal in practice. If you suffer from environmentally triggered cancers, the burden of proof is on you.
The European Chemicals agency points out that we live in a chemical soup, with over 144,000 man-made chemicals in existence, with few controls relative to the number of chemicals. Scientists have responded to this claim through research, categorizing Earth as a “toxic planet”. Few companies follow laws that do exist, and the legal penalties for damages are so weak that it pays to ignore the law, release whatever you want and pay the fines. The profits are greater than the fines.
Nolo Contendere: Metaphor & Practice
Nolo contendere is a legal term that comes from the Latin phrase “I do not wish to contend”. It is also referred to as a plea of no contest. In criminal trials in the U.S,. the defendant neither admits nor disputes a charge. It’s an alternative to pleading guilty or not guilty. While nolo contendere carries various restrictions on its use, it is often used for purposes of defense and public relations as no guilt is admitted.
Your mobile phone is a case in point. Many of us own Apple mobile phones for example. Apple has a brand identity that combines cool and sexy with attributes of advanced technology and friendliness. Its phones, among other brands, depends on the mineral cobalt to build its rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Smartphones would not fit in pockets without this mineral, at least to date. Nor would we have tablets, or Tesla, for that matter.
Sixty percent of the world’s cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with 40% sourced from a number of other nations, including China. The technology that uses cobalt was supposed to be cleaner, less toxic and green. Gone are the days of acid batteries, hello to the days of ‘green batteries’, or so the marketing pitch goes.
Child labor and human rights abuses are rife throughout the cobalt-producing regions of South Eastern Congo. This includes women and children who spend their days washing minerals, while babies are being born with shocking, rarely seen birth defects. Artisanal workers, who dig small tunnels into the sides of mountains, mine cobalt.
Children dig tunnels and crawl into them to work, using chisels to scrape and hammerstone. An estimated 40,000 children mine cobalt in tunnels or gather and break surface rock. The work, however, is dangerous as tunnels often collapse, and injuries from jagged rocks and fires are common. Some children have difficulties breathing from dust particles. Miners earn between $2 and $3.00 per day by selling their stone at a local mineral market.
30-40% of the cobalt that’s mined by women and children is purchased directly by the DRC government, which ships the mineral to one major company in China to be refined. It is then sold to large battery cathode makers; and in turn, it’s sold to battery makers that supply Apple and major tech companies. Cobalt is not covered by any laws that govern its mining. The reason given is economic: “any real crimp in the cobalt supply chain would devastate companies”, according to analyst Simon Moores.
Never mind that it devastates lives. Most large tech companies and users of tech plead ignorance about the conditions of child labor and health hazards, let alone low pay; a kind of nolo contendere follows. Apple, Tesla, GM and Ford, are among dozens of large companies that escape responsibility. Tesla in a news release promised to “send our guy to look into things” and never did. Apple says it supports the addition of cobalt to the 2010 U.S. law covering conflict minerals. However, it will monitor supply chains starting next year, after they cover themselves with sufficient supplies of the mineral.
Apple has knowingly employed child labor in the past. When Apple discovered that Suyin Electronics, one of its Chinese-based suppliers, relied on child labor on multiple occasions, it took three years to fully cut ties despite the company’s promises to hold itself to the highest labor standards. Apple has also faced intense criticism amid reports that it relies on forced Uyghur labor and wage theft by companies who ‘employ’ workers that make its products.
Ten former members of Apple’s supplier responsibility team have stated that Apple has refused or been slow to stop doing business with suppliers who repeatedly violate its labor policies, including those governing child labor, especially if its actions would hurt profits.
What To Do Next: Many actions are necessary to stop the legal theft of life. These include the following demands:
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of Consumer Protection and demand that it enacts a requirement that every product sold in the U.S. must display a Misery Index; that it must support consumers’ right to know about the products they purchase and their supply chains. This index could be populated by clear measurements of human and environmental damage applied to the production and distribution of goods. Any product above 6 on a scale of 10, for example, would be given 6 months to rectify damages or be pulled from the shelf.
- Contact President Biden or Vice President Harris and demand intervention and laws regarding the mining of cobalt, setting up a legal body to monitor impact and fine the DRC and the Chinese company Congo Dong Fang Mining, the primary reseller of cobalt, $1 million per labor violation per month in its territories for practices in the field. If violations continue, block buying cobalt from countries that produce cobalt with child labor, and create environmental damage.
- Contact Apple, Tesla, GM, and Ford, and demand that they govern their battery and cobalt supply chains for violations of United Nations laws governing child labor, human misery and environmental damages.
- Start a consumer awareness program by contacting and educating your friends about the issue at hand.
Next time that you recharge your Apple cell phone, or others, try and be conscious of the fact that part of a person’s life, a child’s life, is being robbed from them legally. The Misery Index on your phone is above 6 and should be shelved. Before that happens, it’s time to support the writing and enforcement of new laws with real teeth that add to genuine justice. Stop supporting the theft of human life and the life of the planet.