They say that ignorance is bliss and never has that been truer than in the case of modern consumer products. It seems like the more we know about the things we buy, the more we want to punch ourselves right square in the jaw. Diamonds are an obvious example, especially their “blood” variety i.e. those gems which are mined in war zones and help finance ethnic genocide in Africa.

The (relatively) good news is that at least today we’re more or less aware of that particular problem and can adjust our jewelry purchases accordingly. The bad news is that there are many more “blood” items out there which contribute to hundreds—maybe even thousands—of deaths each year and most of us are probably guilty of buying them, including…

3. Smartphones


Smartphones have come a long way in the last couple of years, thoroughly dominating the portable media device market, killing all of their competitors and making techno-slaves of us all… What I’m trying to say is that Smartphones are responsible for the continued slavery and oppression in the Congo.

Smartphones are complex products, requiring the use of rare minerals like columbite-tantalite, cassiterite or wolframite and not, as Apple would have you believe, black turtlenecks. The problem is, those minerals are found primarily in remote areas of Central Africa where armed militia groups force the local population—children included—into slavery to dig for the precious metals, the demand for which has never been higher because, come on, life without a Smartphone? That’s just crazy talk.

Fortunately, as of August 2012 a plan has been in the works to create an auditing system that would help to identify conflict-free minerals, thus bringing the end to the “blood phone.” This does not change the current situation of the consumer electronics market because there is still no possible way to determine whether your portable Angry Birds techno-gizmo of choice was built with the “help” of an Angry Militant pointing an AK-47 at a terrified Congolese child.

2. Chocolate

ChocolateChocolate is a popular comfort food for people around the world, with the possible exception of the Ivory Coast, the leading producer of cocoa beans on the planet. Why is that? Because growing a single crop of cocoa trees requires up to 5 years of backbreaking manual labor in 100-degree weather, making chocolate the farthest thing from “comfort” for the workers of the Ivory Coast plantations… many of whom include child slaves.

Like coffee plants, cocoa trees can only be grown in a limit “belt” around the Earth which unfortunately includes many regions where slave labor runs (for lack of a better word) free. It’s the primary reason why chocolate is constantly kept at such low prices year after year, not to mention why unsourced café mocha is technically the most evil drink in the history of ever.

Thankfully, there is a Fair Trade rating system in place right now that can tell you which brand of chocolate to buy if you want to remain a conscious consumer. Unless you had, like, a crazy day at work and just really need to relax for a minute. In that case it’s totally OK to eat your slave chocolate, obviously.

1. Faded Jeans

The_Row_Ashland_jeans,_Barneys_New_YorkNew jeans with a prefabricated worn-out look have been a staple of the mainstream fashion scene for more than 20 years now but did you ever wonder how they are made? Here’s a hint: they do not distribute them to orphans to wear them down over time.

The most popular way to fade out a new cut of denim is to blast it with sand from a compressor, which is the method of choice for most garment factories in Bangladesh and other Asian countries. And that’s actually a big problem because workers who breathe in the sand particles put themselves at risk of getting silicosis, a potentially fatal disease.

Silicosis occurs when a person inhales silica (sand) dust, which then embeds itself within the lungs. At its mildest, silicosis causes shortness of breath, fatigue and pain in the eyes. But it can easily become fatal in its acute form.

Currently, large denim companies like Levi Strauss have instituted a ban on sandblasting jeans but it’s nearly impossible to enforce because almost no clothing company actually owns the factories their garments are made in.

The only realistic solution seems to be to abandon factory-faded jeans and instead buy genuinely used clothing from thrift stores because, crazy as it may sound, there are no plans in sight to create some sort of Fair Trade rating system for pants.

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10 responses to “Three “Blood” Items You Probably Have In Your House Right Now”

  1. gordon phinn says:

    Russ, do you know for sure this is not just the “organic industry” tooting its own horn to get bigger market share in chocolate? I watched the “health food industry” as it was called in the 1970’s, bullshit its way to prominence over a couple of decades and that is the source of my cynicism. I smell a rerun here.

  2. Soma Visal says:

    This is what the sixth sensed humans do to humankinds!?

  3. sfulmer says:

    This quote from 2003 American Journal of Industrial Medicine (Steenland, Burnett, Lalich,Ward, Hurrell) :

    “We believe our estimate of 49,000 (range 26,000–72,000) annual US deaths due to occupational disease mortality is the most well-documented estimate to date for the US. The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) estimated that there were 6,238 US 1997 deaths due to occupational injury in the US [CFOI, 1999]. Adding this figure to our own, we estimate that overall there were approximately 55,200 annual US deaths due to occupational causes in 1997. This would make deaths attributable to occupation the 8th leading cause of death in the US, after diabetes (64,751) but ahead of suicide (30,575), and greater than the annual number of motor vehicle deaths per year (43,501) (”

  4. Joel Davis says:

    In addition to garment worker’s health, almost all conventional cotton grown around the world is Monsanto’s genetically modified Bt strain which was touted to increase yields, decrease pesticide application and provide significant drought tolerance. In practice, however, this seed has proven the opposite (source: and has lead to over a quarter million farmer suicides in India since its introduction. It is incredibly important for all of us to limit new purchases and reuse and recycle our clothes in order to reduce demand.Vote Hemp!

  5. boxers horses says:

    I thought you were going to write about eating animals, who, in terms of sheer numbers exploited for human ends, may be the ultimate in “blood money.”

    This is a valuable list, which I’ll remember and share. Am relieved to not own diamonds (except from my grandmother) or a smartphone or faded jeans, nor do I buy/eat chocolate any more.

    • rumcious says:

      So multinational corporations and Governments booting people of their land, corrupting and killing for vegetables to cater to a global market don’t count? Cash-crops for bio-fuel? If ANY technology of ANY kind is owned it’ll contain ‘blood’ to some degree – the copper for wiring, gold for contacts points, silver for just about everything else. Even something as simple as salt is traded off the backs of exploitation. How far down the self-righteous rabbit whole should we go?

  6. Charles DeGaulle says:

    Don’t forget the doubly bloody diamonds, which are mined by African slaves and then processed in Israel.

  7. tony bonn says:

    god bless you for publishing this! and don’t forget nike’s slave labor camps in indonesia – the author of confessions of an economic hitman can tell you about that as can naomi klein

    • BB says:

      That would be John Perkins, who exposed the gimmick our government uses of persuading countries useful to us to accept a huge loan that can be repaid by allowing American corporations to embed factories and offices, and perhaps troops, to benefit from dirt-cheap labor and dodgy tax shelters. If the country’s leader refuses he has an unfortunate deadly “accident”.

  8. Cat says:

    Highly recommended documentary: Blood in the Mobile

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