Who made your smartphone? Globalization, raw materials, and slave labor from Potosi to Silicon Valley

Globalization is nothing new – the indigenous peoples slaving away in the Potosi mines 500 years ago could tell you all about it, while Europeans cracked the whip in order to buy Asian-made goods at affordable prices. Add in the fact that the mines were supplied with food and coca by African slaves laboring away in the low lands, and you have a template for the modern integrated global economy – exploitation, unequal rewards, and all.

Silver is all well and fine, but there are plenty of other components that make up the smartphone in your pocket.  Choose one – such as lithium, crude oil, gold, or one of the more exotic elements named on this chart.  Where in the world is this resource most commonly found?  What does it take to extract it?  To refine it?  What is it used for?  What are the environmental and social by-products of all of these processes?  What conditions do the producers of this good live and work under? What are their lives like?  Be sure to find photos and video to bring your research to life.the-chemical-elements-of-a-smartphone-v2.png

Find more information and lesson plans on the mines of Potosi here.

Open Ended Social Studies is home to dozens of resources for teaching the history of America from different angles than your state-issued textbook might offer.