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Behind the Work

The Dark Side of Green Technology

The Dark Side of Green Technology

Patricia Murphy

Patricia Murphy

December 9, 2019

Consumers may think they are making a conscientious decision when opting for an electric car, but Havas Prague questions whether it really is such a good deed.

"Low-tech mining in developing countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo that bases itself on the exploitation of poor people"

In today’s modern world, cobalt has become an important commodity for its use in the creation of rechargeable batteries that power the likes of e-bikes, e-scooters, and e-cars. But the people who work in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—a third of whom are children—experience the dark side of green technology every day. In a devastating campaign for Amnesty International, Havas Prague highlighted the inhumane conditions faced by the miners, which the organization likens to slavery in the Middle Ages. The “Electric Slaves” campaign features a series of striking images, including young children and a breastfeeding mother hard at work, and depicted their life expectancies using a depleting battery symbol. The impactful project, with authentic images by Gwenn Dubourthoumieu, recently scooped up two Silver Awards at Epica, and a Bronze at Eurobest. Here, Creative Directors of Havas Prague, Petr Čech and Jakub Kolářík, talk about the collaborative work, which was published in Czech magazine Nový Prostor.

What was the insight that led to this campaign?

It is a big paradox. On one hand, you have this advanced technology solving problems in industrial countries but on the other hand you have low-tech mining in developing countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo that bases itself on the exploitation of poor people.

Many consumers think that they are making an ethical decision by choosing a “green” car, but what are the conditions like for those in the cobalt mines, such as those in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Our campaign is based on a survey by Amnesty International. It reveals that most electric vehicle manufacturers still do not require ethical standards for cobalt mining. Therefore, the working conditions in the mines are as bad as our photos depict.

 

"We knew that showing real people’s stories would have a much stronger impact than casting actors for a staged photo shoot"

The DRC has promised to eliminate child labor and improve the conditions of those working in the mines by 2025. How have the brands using supplies from the mines responded to the campaign and Amnesty’s message?

People have the impression that buying an electric car means doing a good deed. Our task was to question this “purity.” We did not address specific brands, so there was no reaction as far as we know and we didn’t expect any either.

A number is shown beside each battery, what does this represent?

It represents the number of days left for those enslaved people. It symbolically compares their lives with lives of the batteries they are digging cobalt for.

A third of those working in the cobalt mines are children, and this campaign’s award-winning imagery really focuses on them. Can you tell us about the images that were chosen for the campaign?

After selling the campaign idea to our client, we started with searching for reference pictures for a photo shoot. But during that process we found a collection of authentic photos by French photographer Gwenn Dubourthoumieu. It was then we realized that showing real people’s stories would have a much stronger impact than casting actors for a staged photo shoot. So, we decided to make it as documentary-like as possible and it helped the campaign’s authenticity.

The campaign was recently recognized at the Golden Drum Festival and Epica.  How does it feel to be acknowledged for a campaign that works to promote our meaningful difference ethos?

It was very satisfying. This campaign reached a much bigger audience than we anticipated,  beyond the borders of the Czech Republic. We are happy that the awards draw more attention to the campaign and it gets extra and free media space.

"Low-tech mining in developing countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo that bases itself on the exploitation of poor people"

In today’s modern world, cobalt has become an important commodity for its use in the creation of rechargeable batteries that power the likes of e-bikes, e-scooters, and e-cars. But the people who work in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—a third of whom are children—experience the dark side of green technology every day. In a devastating campaign for Amnesty International, Havas Prague highlighted the inhumane conditions faced by the miners, which the organization likens to slavery in the Middle Ages. The “Electric Slaves” campaign features a series of striking images, including young children and a breastfeeding mother hard at work, and depicted their life expectancies using a depleting battery symbol. The impactful project, with authentic images by Gwenn Dubourthoumieu, recently scooped up two Silver Awards at Epica, and a Bronze at Eurobest. Here, Creative Directors of Havas Prague, Petr Čech and Jakub Kolářík, talk about the collaborative work, which was published in Czech magazine Nový Prostor.

What was the insight that led to this campaign?

It is a big paradox. On one hand, you have this advanced technology solving problems in industrial countries but on the other hand you have low-tech mining in developing countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo that bases itself on the exploitation of poor people.

Many consumers think that they are making an ethical decision by choosing a “green” car, but what are the conditions like for those in the cobalt mines, such as those in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Our campaign is based on a survey by Amnesty International. It reveals that most electric vehicle manufacturers still do not require ethical standards for cobalt mining. Therefore, the working conditions in the mines are as bad as our photos depict.

 

"We knew that showing real people’s stories would have a much stronger impact than casting actors for a staged photo shoot"

The DRC has promised to eliminate child labor and improve the conditions of those working in the mines by 2025. How have the brands using supplies from the mines responded to the campaign and Amnesty’s message?

People have the impression that buying an electric car means doing a good deed. Our task was to question this “purity.” We did not address specific brands, so there was no reaction as far as we know and we didn’t expect any either.

A number is shown beside each battery, what does this represent?

It represents the number of days left for those enslaved people. It symbolically compares their lives with lives of the batteries they are digging cobalt for.

A third of those working in the cobalt mines are children, and this campaign’s award-winning imagery really focuses on them. Can you tell us about the images that were chosen for the campaign?

After selling the campaign idea to our client, we started with searching for reference pictures for a photo shoot. But during that process we found a collection of authentic photos by French photographer Gwenn Dubourthoumieu. It was then we realized that showing real people’s stories would have a much stronger impact than casting actors for a staged photo shoot. So, we decided to make it as documentary-like as possible and it helped the campaign’s authenticity.

The campaign was recently recognized at the Golden Drum Festival and Epica.  How does it feel to be acknowledged for a campaign that works to promote our meaningful difference ethos?

It was very satisfying. This campaign reached a much bigger audience than we anticipated,  beyond the borders of the Czech Republic. We are happy that the awards draw more attention to the campaign and it gets extra and free media space.

Patricia Murphy joined Havas Group in October 2019 as a Senior Editor and Writer. She has a background in digital journalism and content creation.

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