Exploitation of the natural resources and workforces of third countries – just three among countless examples

Exploitation of the natural resources and workforces of third countries – just three among countless examples:

(1) Coltan and cobalt: Both are ores, whose main resources are located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). From coltan the metal tantalum is extracted which, on account of its high heat and corrosion resistance and its electrical conductivity and capacitance, has become indispensable for the production of, among other things, mobile telephones and laptops. The growing world market for portable electronic devices and rechargeable batteries also drives the growing demand for cobalt, a key component in lithium-ion-batteries. Similar to the coltan, more than half of the total supply of cobalt derives from the Congo. So-called excavators, mainly children, earn, depending on the source of information, between 0.4 and 2 US dollar per day (without any insurance or social benefits) for twelve hours hardest and extremely unhealthy work in the opencast mines in the Congo. The most important buyers and processors are American, European, south Korean and Japanese firms. According to UNICEF, in 2015 about 40,000 children worked in the mines of southern Congo, many of them in the Coltan and cobalt mining.[1]

(2) Purchase of arable land in third countries by wealthy states: Not only since the 2007-2008 food crisis, which brought price increases for basic foodstuffs (including rice) of between 200 and 400%, has there been a sharp increase in the trend towards the purchase (leasing) of arable land, especially in Africa and parts of Asia though also in some of the former Eastern bloc states, by firms from countries which depend on food imports to feed their populations (European firms, South Korea, China, the Gulf States, etc.). It is estimated that around 70 million hectares have been already affected by this trade in the recent years[2] – with rising trend – an area sufficient to feed 1 billion people[3]. In the developing countries concerned, whose populations are in any case plagued by poverty and malnutrition, small farmers are being driven out of production (and into severe poverty), so that large firms can ensure reliable supplies of cheap foodstuffs to wealthy foreign countries.

 (3) Water – is not only the basis of all life, but also has great significance for the industry and agriculture. For decades, the water supply was regarded as an important task of the state. Only in the 1990s many countries started privatizing the supply of this existential good. Today a series of multinational corporations dominate the global water markets, starting with the production of the necessary facilities for water extraction, the filling lines for bottled water, to the private water suppliers and wholesalers. This results especially in climatically fragile countries in serious, mostly irreversible ecological and thus economic damage (in particular lowering of the groundwater level), as well as in general the rapid increase in the price of water for the local population. The combination of rising world population and steady industrialization also means that the battle for water will intensify further and further. In the 20th century wars were fought primarily for oil, in the 21st century water will be more and more in the focus. Already during the genocide in Rwanda (1994) and the Sudanese Darfur conflict (since 2003) water played a major role and, for example, the wars in Iraq (since 2003/2014) and Syria (2011) are also about securing water resources.

[1] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/01/Child-labour-behind-smart-phone-and-electric-car-batteries/ (2016)

[2] http://www.fian.org/what-we-do/issues/land-grabbing/ (2016)

[3] http://www.oxfamamerica.org/take-action/campaign/food-farming-and-hunger/land-freeze/ (2013)