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Follow Up To Cobal Mitzvah Dilemma


Rabbi David Sperling

Sivan 1, 5780
Thank you for responding to my question. I really appreciate it. I just wanted to ask a follow up question. What if it was definite that cobalt was being used? Would we have to shut down almost 30% of buisnesses in China and other places. that use child labor?
Shalom, Thank you for your follow question. I assume that what you are asking is the following – what if the manufacturing of computers and mobile phones was dependent on using cobalt that was mined with immoral and hurtful child labor. Would one be allowed to buy such a computer? Let's tackle the question from two sides. Firstly, would one be able to manufacture a product if to do so one needed to use forbidden processes to do so? That would be the question facing Apple computers for example. What if the only way they could make their computers was to use cobalt that was only available through sending children to their death? Here the answer would be clear. It would be forbidden. The need of Apple to make and sell computers – even the needs of the whole world to use computers, could not justify killing of other peoples. There is even a halachic opinion theft is forbidden even in a case of Pikuach Nefesh. (see ) Although this is not the bottom line ruling, certainly one cannot justify using forbidden activities to make money. There might perhaps be room to argue that the manufacturing of computers etc is a question of Pikuach Nefesh (if there are no new computers made, certainly hospitals will start to fail, and ultimately people may die because of this) – but even then, if the use of child labor is leading to the children's death, then it would be forbidden to make the computers to save some lives whilst killing others. This is without question when we realize that it is possible to mine the cobalt in a way that does not lead to the death of children (albeit with more expense). Apple would have to make less money and buy the materials at a higher cost rather than use forbidden means. The second question is – even if we knew for certain that the manufacturing was using forbidden child labor, could we still buy such a computer. The halacha here is not so clear cut. On the one hand, if a person knows that the products they are buying are stolen it if forbidden to buy them (see Shulchan Aruch 356, 1). This is because that by doing so one strengthen the hands of the thief. This would seem to apply here also – by purchasing the computer, one is strengthening the hands of the forbidden activity of child labor and their deaths. On the other hand – there is room to believe that because the person buying the computer is so far removed from the mining process, their purchase would not be considered as direct "strengthening" and support of the sin. (For example, if someone stole wood, and then used it to make a beam to support a roof, one would be allowed to buy such a house). If, though, the community decided to use their joint force and blacklist buying any computers who used such cobalt mined in a forbidden way, then one would be obligated to join forces with the community and refrain from such a purchase. But, until then, it would be hard to forbid such a purchase on the basis that if one traces back five or ten steps there was a forbidden act involved. Again, let me point out that the real answer to the moral question you pose is to get directly involved with the mines who employ terrible child labor with dangerous work methods. When international law, and enforcement become strong enough, through public pressure and scrutiny, then the situation will change. Anyone who has the ability to help in this would certainly be doing a great mitzvah. Blessings.
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