Studies attempting to find a link between mobiles and medical traumas are infamously vague and inconclusive, mainly due to the fact that many of them are carried out by the phone companies themselves. Fortunately, Blood in the Mobile’s (2010) Finnish director Frank Poulsen has found a new angle to attack the industry: cassiterite, a mineral used in the manufacture of phones is being mined illegally in the Congo and some of the profits are being used to fund bands of murderous guerillas who tax the miners and terrorise the country.
Within the film, Poulsen travels to one of these Congolese mines and find workers living and toiling in poor and highly dangerous conditions. Kids as young as 14-years-old are shown chipping away for low wages in cramped unstable mine shafts by day, and dodging bullets in the plastic sheet shanty town by night. It’s the kind of human exploitation that Great Britain used to specialise in during the industrial revolution, before the government decided to give the peasants a few rights so they didn’t get angry and march on Westminster with pitchforks and burning torches.
Poulsen’s mission is not only to reveal the truth behind this mineral trade, but to get his fellow Finns at Nokia to do something about it. Obviously, Nokia are reluctant to speak about the matter. As every good Nike sweatshop PR man will tell you, admitting that your product is manufactured by slaves is not good for business.
Although Blood in the Mobile should be commended for highlighting the dubious practices of the mobile phone industry, it could have been vastly improved by providing some historical context and casting its net of righteous indignation a little farther. Cassiterite is used to make computers and other electrical products, and perhaps the filmmakers should have tried to get some answers from other companies rather than concentrate solely on Nokia. More time could have also have been spent at the mine itself, and the film would have benefited from more scenes in the Congo and less scenes in various corporate offices.
Still, Blood in the Mobile is an interesting glimpse at the dark side of a billion dollar industry and liberals, closet revolutionaries and anti-capitalists will be suitably outraged. It’s not going to inspire you to throw your Blackberry in the bin, but then again if a report was released tomorrow which proved beyond doubt that mobile phones made you sterile and boiled your spinal fluid, it would be skimmed over and ignored.
Blood in the Mobile might be a fairly weak and easily-repelled attack against the phone industry, but one leaves with the distinct feeling that there are some darker secrets out there waiting to be uncovered.