Category Archives: Advocates

Anti-Apple Street Art Shows the Child Labor Behind iPhones

By Meghan Neal

Your next smartphone will probably cost a couple hundred dollars, but the costs don’t end there. Just getting the raw materials can take a toll on the life of a child tin miner in Bangka, Indonesia.

That’s the point Finnish street artist Sampsa—aka the “the Banksy of Finland”—wants to drive home to gadget owners with his latest political street art campaign.

The campaign comes on the heels of a spate of news reports about the “deadly tin” inside your phone or tablet. Major electronics companies like Apple and Samsung source the tin used as solder from mines on Bangka Island. The unregulated mills run on child labor, are destroying the environment in the region, and are so dangerous police estimate the death toll averages one worker every week.

One-third of the world’s tin is mined in Bangka, and half of that goes to the electronics industry. Gadget manufacturers are increasingly under the gun to address the issue—especially the notoriously secretive Apple, which has yet to fess up to this dirty link in its supply chain.

Sampsa told me he first became interested in the issue after reading a Businessweek article this summer about the deplorable work conditions in the mines, and then bringing the conversation up with an American friend over a pint.

“It ended with him commenting about the Indonesian miners dying that ‘it’s those people’s problem, they should fight for better rights,’ he said over email. “When I asked this person, would he be purchasing anymore iProducts in the future, he said absolutely’ without delay. It occurred to me then that empathy was slowly being removed from human conditioning. To this person, five deaths a month was justifiable for the products he so Loved.”

The artist’s campaign targets Apple, and specifically the late Steve Jobs, for pushing into the market a business model that relied on planned obsolescence—designed to have a short lifespan to keep you buying the next version. Sampsa argues that Apple pushed its supply chain to conform to this standard, ignoring the collateral costs. The Obsolescence is King artwork series is about defacing Jobs as an icon—to point out that his legend should be his role in designing planned obsolescence.

“Is Apple the only one benefiting from cheap tin on Bangka Island? No,” the artist said. “Was Apple’s demand and harsh terms to the supply chain what excelled the horror Bangka Island has faced? Yes. Has the upper tier management at Apple known about Bangka all along—you bet your ass they did. Problems there have been reported into the public domain as far back as 2007.”

Under pressure from environmental groups, most major smartphone players by now have released statements that they understand their supply chains involve conflict minerals from Bangka Island, and are concerned about the issue. But Apple has been tight-lipped on the issue.

“To come clean that you knew of the deaths, you knew children were dying, land and sea was being decimated—and you continued to drive your supply chain like a pack of rabid dogs to produce—would be to admit too much and too far away from the public image they so enjoy,” Sampsa said.

Now if sales dropped, phone companies would have more to say on the issue, the artist argued. Any real change will take a shift in public opinion, and that’s where the street art campaign comes in. Sampsa wants to bring together well-known street artists around the world to exhibit in London and raise awareness about the issue of conflict minerals.

“There are tens of millions of street artists and hundreds of millions of clicks watching us,” he said. “I think we could help sway public thinking to be more critical of the situation.”

He’s teamed up with the environmental group Friends of the Earth, which has been leading the charge against smartphone companies to address the issue. The group has released a report detailing the scene in Bangka: “Silt from tin mining is killing coral reefs and seagrass eaten by turtles, driving away fish, and ruining fishermen’s livelihoods. Farmers struggle to grow crops in soil left acidic after the destruction of forests for tin mining.” It’s calling for government policies to encourage companies to keep their supply chains clean.

Street art can help, Sampsa argued. The child labor images above and below play on the two sides of the coin, he explained. One side depicts a child’s future unfolding in a tumultuous winding road of physical labor. The other shows a child wearing a shirt and tie, with Apple logos reflecting in the glasses. “This child has the knowledge of the tin mines and is praying for the sin of enjoying the product with guilty pleasure,” he said.


Many artists consider the art as the activism in-and-of-itself, Sampsa said, but that’s not enough. “If you call yourself a political and/or socially conscious artist, then take the extra step to manifest what it is you are expressing.”

To that end, he hopes to help recover reparations for families in Bangka Island who have lost loved ones or their livelihood. Friends of the Earth has a plan to repair the environmental damage on farms and the coral reefs. It wants to see laws forcing companies to report on the human and environmental impacts of their business.

Sampsa’s got some ideas, too. “Maybe everybody around the world with a smartphone in their pocket donates one,” he said. One dollar, one yen, one peso, one euro. One as a symbol of one person not willing to accept loss of life in order to receive product. One person to signify to the corporations that this is not acceptable. And perhaps if companies like Apple at 400 billion in assets could equal, double, triple—heck contribute 10 times the amount we recover.”

“I believe if any change is going to come in modern times, it is going to have to come from us—the consumers.”


N.Y. County Outsources The Job Of Monitoring Sex Offenders

A suburban county on Long Island, N.Y., is taking a novel approach to monitoring sex offenders: It’s giving the job to a victims’ advocacy group

Troy Wallace with his wife, Lynda. Wallace is suing Suffolk County, N.Y., contending its new sex offender monitoring law violates his civil rights.

By Charles Lane

The measure was approved unanimously earlier this year; lawmakers call it a cost-effective way to keep citizens safe. But a local lawyer calls it a “vigilante exercise,” and convicted sex offenders are organizing to challenge the legislation.

‘The Trackers’

Troy Wallace, 42, a convicted sex offender, is among those who object to the methods of Parents for Megan’s Law, the advocacy group hired by Suffolk County.

Wallace, who was convicted of sexual abuse two decades ago and is now married with two children, says one day last spring he met the people he calls “the trackers.”

“I went and got coffee, and they pull up. It was a grey sedan, probably a Crown Victoria. They weren’t law enforcement. But they had like a computer in the car,” he says.

Two men in the car began questioning him. “I refused to give my name,” Wallace says. “I just continued to walk because I know the law, that I don’t have to give my name.”

He crossed the street and waited — and so did the two men.

“And then they left. So then I made a couple calls and said, ‘Yeah, I believe I was encountered by the trackers’ … just putting other people on alert,” he says. The other people, like Wallace, are registered sex offenders.

Legalizing Enforcement

The “trackers” are civilian employees of Parents for Megan’s Law, a nonprofit organization getting close to $1 million a year to implement the law. Their role is to enforce what Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone calls the “toughest sex offender monitoring” law in the country.

“You can expect you will have an enhanced level of scrutiny unlike anything that exists anywhere else in our country,” he says.

In February, the Suffolk County Legislature approved the bill unanimously. Some, like, Democrat Kate Browning, even joked about the law’s desired outcome for sex offenders: “And if they don’t like it, then they know where they can go.” Someone else answered, “Another county.”

Lawmakers aimed the bill at what they called “predators,” people who do bad things to vulnerable people. But Wallace says he, and many others, aren’t bad people. In 1992, when he was 21, he was convicted of the sexual abuse of a 15-year-old girl. Wallace agreed to a plea deal in the case. But he claims the sex was consensual and that he thought the girl was 18.

Since then, residency laws have become more and more restrictive. After Suffolk County’s latest law, he and other convicted offenders filed a lawsuit. Wallace says police essentially deputized Parents for Megan’s Law to “harass” sex offenders in public.

“It might be a negative impact if you just walk away from these people, which you legally have the right to do,” Wallace says. “But the fact that they attempt to ask you questions, just like your name, for whatever purpose, is an unlawful detention.”

What makes Suffolk’s monitoring unique is it’s being outsourced to civilians. And not just any civilians, but to a victims’ advocacy group. Larry Spirn, a local attorney who often defends sex offenders, says Parents for Megan’s Law has a national reputation for being hostile to post-conviction sex offenders.

“There isn’t the kind of venomous attitudes that exist between police officers and the people that they arrest. For them, it’s a job,” says Spirn. “That’s why policing is a profession. …It’s not a vigilante exercise, and I think what we have here is an absolute vigilante exercise.”

What’s Left Unsaid

How Parents for Megan’s Law actually goes about monitoring sex offenders is unknown. The group’s executive director, Laura Ahearn, refuses to explain how they work for fear of revealing “tactical” information about monitoring.

“Representatives will and have gone to registered sex offender addresses and simply ask the registered sex offender if they can provide proof that they reside in that particular home,” she says.

The contract between Suffolk County and Parents for Megan’s Law does provide some safeguards. The contractors cannot carry firearms and must be former law enforcement employees.

But the contract doesn’t outline procedures for address verification or what constitutes “proof of residence.” In other words, according to Spirn, the line between monitoring and harassing isn’t drawn, neither for the sex offender nor the contractor. Ahearn declined further requests for an explanation of her group’s procedures.

“These broad policies make it more difficult for offenders to live in the community,” says Alissa Ackerman, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Washington, Tacoma, who specializes in sex offender management.

“When we are destabilizing offenders, when we’re making it very difficult for them to find housing or very difficult to find work, we’re causing more stress,” she says, “and that may in the future lead to recidivism.”

Ackerman says that while there are many jurisdictions like Suffolk County still creating broad, harsh restrictions against sex offenders, the national trend is the other way. More and more communities are creating nuanced laws that attempt to match restrictions with the likelihood an offender will commit another offense.

Wallace’s lawsuit is ongoing. He is currently recruiting more convicted sex offenders to join him.

Victim Seeks to Prevent Rapist from Having Visitation Rights with Their Child

Wendy Murphy attorney for Mass.woman seeking to prevent rapist from having visitation rights with child conceived by the rape.


A Massachusetts woman is suing the state to stop her rapist from seeking visitation with the child conceived when he raped her as a 14-year-old, Courthouse News reports.

Her convicted rapist, Jaime Melendez, expressed no interest in the child until a judge ordered him to pay $110 a week in support, her complaint says. Melendez then filed a petition with a family court saying he should get visitation rights if he has to pay child support, ABC News previously reported.

The rape victim, identified as H.T. by Courthouse News, asked a judge to force Melendez to pay criminal restitution instead of child support — that way he wouldn’t be able to seek visitation. But a judge rejected her request, meaning she’ll have to fight Melendez’s request for visitation in family court.

Unless the state steps in, H.T. “will be forced by the state to spend substantial time and resources in unwanted litigation with the man who raped her,” her complaint says.

Melendez, now 25, pleaded guilty to rape in 2011 and got 16 years probation. Melendez allegedly went to H.T.’s house when he knew her mother wasn’t there and pressured her to have sex, ABC reported. H.T. says she felt threatened by him. Later on, she was terrified that the child she conceived that night would get to visit with her rapist.

“My client is very worried she’ll have to send her daughter off to this man she doesn’t know, and tell her she’ll be going off on visits with the man who raped her mother and created her. We’re fiercely fighting against concept of even being in Family Court,” her lawyer Wendy Murphy told ABC.

As strange as it sounds, it’s currently legal in Massachusetts for men to seek custody of the children they father during rapes. The Melendez case, however, has spurred state lawmakers to introduce bills that would make it illegal for them to do so, the Patriot-Ledger reported.

Oscar Winner Kickstarts Documentary to Expose U.S. Military’s Role in International Sex Trafficking

David Goodman’s upcoming film, “Singers in the Band,” sheds light on some of the most at-risk and marginalized women and children in the world today

By Greg Gilman

Oscar-winning documentarian David Goodman is turning to Kickstarter to finish “Singers in the Band,” a feature-length passion project nearly 30 years in the making that explores the U.S. military’s involvement in international sex trafficking.

With production and a rough edit in the can, Goodman and his team are asking for $25,000 to fund the film’s post-production process. If the Kickstarter goal is met, executive producer Abigail Disney (“The Invisible War,” “The Queen of Versailles”) has pledged a matching grant to cover additional costs such as legal fees, marketing, and distribution.

Providing the money rolls in, Goodman expects “Singers in the Band” to be completed in as little as six weeks, which will mark the end of a project that he told TheWrap has been “a difficult struggle to make for a lot, a lot of reasons.”

“Most of the difficulty came after 2001 and 9/11,” Goodman said. “The mantra became, ‘Support Our Troops,’ and so anything perceived as something that would challenge that in any way made it an uphill battle in terms of pitching it and securing funds for it.”

“Singers in the Band” focuses on Philippine women who are lured into prostitution after being promised jobs “singing” for the troops in bars and clubs near U.S. military bases in South Korea.

In the Philippines, sex traffickers guised as legitimate entertainment recruiters pay for the women’s singing lessons, a passport, uniform and a flight. The women then arrive in a foreign country with an enormous amount of debt to pay off, and none of the opportunities they were promised.

“The only reason they are there is to service the military personnel and military contractors,” Goodman said. “None of those women — maybe a thousand a year back when I was filming in 2005 — none of those women ever got to sing. They were promised jobs, went there legally on E-6 Visas and put into a position of having to do prostitution because they were put into bars and clubs where that is prolific.”

Goodman was first exposed to the exploitation of the “singers” his film profiles back in 1985, a year before his documentary short, “Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements,” won an Academy Award.

Although the women volunteer to make the move from the Philippines to South Korea, Goodman says they are living in the same conditions as Eastern European women who are kidnapped, brutally beaten and forced into the sex trade.

While Goodman made sure to emphasize that the U.S. military “is not the biggest culprit in the world in terms of global sex trafficking,” he hopes his film will cast a spotlight on “a small piece of the puzzle that has had no exposure whatsoever.”

Disney’s “The Invisible War,” a 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary directed by Kirby Dick, was successful in exposing rampant sexual assaults in the military that were largely ignored or covered up. Following its release last spring, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta revised the Department of Defense’s policy for handling sexual assault cases. Unit commanders previously handled allegations internally, but under Panetta’s directive, all cases are now handled by senior officers at the rank of colonel or higher.

Goodman called Disney’s doc “a companion piece,” or sorts, to his own.

“If they treat their own colleagues that way, what do you think they do with women — who have absolutely no recourse or leverage — from Russia or the Philippines,” Goodman said. “That’s what this film is about.”

Movie: Living with Dead Hearts

Film Illustrates Tragedy of China’s Child Abductions

Liu Liqin revisits the alley in Taiyuan where his son, Jingjun, was playing when he disappeared three years ago.

– Lilian Lin. Follow her on Twitter @LilianLinyigu

In a country where many families are allowed only one child, the notion that one’s son or daughter could be abducted and sold feels almost impossibly horrible. And yet, as a new documentary makes clear, it happens in China with stunning frequency.

“Most of foreigners don’t know this is happening at all,” says Charlie Custer, a blogger who co-produced and directed the film, “Living With Dead Hearts,” with his wife Leia Li. “Chinese don’t know it is happening or they know it is happening but don’t know it is happening in this scale.”

Simultaneously compelling and hard to watch, Mr. Custer’s film, released online last week, is the result of roughly two years of shooting, funded in part by $7,500 in donations solicited through social media. The blogger-turned-filmmaker was motivated to make the film, he says, because child abduction is a long-running problem in China – and because it’s an issue that transcends political divisions inside the country.

“I thought about doing a piece on censorship in China, or political dissent, but the government and those who defend it have a rationale behind it,” said Charlie. “Kidnapping of children is one of the China social issues that everybody, at least from moral perspective, agrees should not happen.”

The market for stolen children is growing, according to state media reports, which put the price for an abducted child at between 30,000 and 80,000 yuan ($4,900 to $13,000). Some are sold into families, some into prostitution or marriage and some into begging gangs.

Authorities disagree over just how many children are abducted in China. In June, state broadcaster China National Radio estimated 200,000 children are abducted in the country every year (in Chinese) – a number that was rejected a few days later by a senior police official. The film puts the number at around 70,000.

“The statistics are terrifying, but they’re just statistics, especially for people outside China,” Mr. Custer said.” We want to do a film that puts people in front of you and puts a more human face on the statistics.”

The first-time director got started by making cold calls to families that had reported losing children. He ended up with three families, whose stories form the backbone of the film. One is the family of Liu Liqin, a worker in the industrial central China city of Taiyuan whose son was abducted while playing in an alleyway with two other children in April 2010. “For a month after we lost him, she and I couldn’t even tell day from night,” he says, referring to his wife, who was sterilized on orders of planning officials in their home village after the birth of their son because he was their second child.

Mr. Custer notes that a number of documentaries have been made about the subject, but says many take a simplistic approach. “They blame one-child policy for the whole problem,” he says. “Certainly it is one of the reasons, but if you abolish one-child policy tomorrow, kidnapping will not disappear.”

When he was in the northeastern city of Harbin during his first year in China, Mr. Custer says, he noticed children begging on the streets and mentioned it a to friend who was a former local policeman. The friend told him it was likely some of the kids had been kidnapped and sold. That’s when he started to follow the issue, taking notes on kidnapped kids wherever he travelled to China.

“It is happening everywhere,” he says.

One of the great barriers to solving the problem is the complicity of local officials. In some cases, Mr. Custer says, police are in the trafficker’s pocket. In other cases, family planning officials themselves are engaged in trafficking.

“Some officials take the kids (from more-than-one-kid family) and sell them to orphanage for 500 bucks a pop, and there are a thousand kids,” he said. “That is a lot of money.”

Parents of stolen children are often poor and uneducated, and often don’t know what their rights are, he said.

Another barrier to dealing with the issue is cooperation and persistence necessary to find a lost child, and the low chances of success, which together discourage police from dedicating themselves to the task.

“Our main goal was to make [the film] emotionally affecting enough to create some more consciousness,” Mr. Custer says. “Hopefully, the more people get to think about it and engage with it, the better the chance that more solutions may come up.”

He says one of the best solutions currently being tried is a national DNA database set up by the Ministry of Public Security that theoretically allows for testing of children to determine whether they have been abducted (in Chinese). The problem is few parents know about or are willing to register their children in the database, and in some cases police have illegally charged parents money for tests. It’s also not clear, he adds, whether the government is willing to do wide-scale DNA testing of children in orphanages and on the streets.

The film now can be watched online for free, though there are options to buy it on DVD or in a downloadable version with deleted scenes and director’s commentary. Mr. Custer says a Chinese version is roughly a week away from being uploaded to Chinese video sites.