Issue

Trade

Behind almost every product we buy and the GDP numbers we worry over, there is a story whose trail crosses the globe. Every physical product starts as raw material somewhere, from the gold in our jewelry to the shrimp at our favorite restaurants and the minerals within our mobile phones and laptops.

The rapid industrialization of countries like India, China, and Brazil and a voracious consumer culture in Europe, the United States and Japan mean ever greater demand for these raw materials—and ever greater pressures on the individuals, communities, and environments that bear the cost of providing them.

These local costs too often remain hidden. They are obscured by companies and governments that put a premium on production and exports. They are little understood by consumers, whose concept of "price" and "value" does not include damage done to people and places far away.

Trade is an effort to make those connections plain, to show the true costs of producing the commodities that have become essential to our lifestyles but that we mostly take for granted. These reports touch on goods and challenges across the globe that share a common theme: the implications of a vision of endless prosperity set against the reality of a finite planet.

Trade

Blood, Sweat, and Batteries

Two-thirds of the world's cobalt, an essential ingredient in our smartphones and electric cars, comes from one of the planet's poorest countries. All too often it is mined by children.

China and Wisconsin: Paper Cuts

Faced with the devastating twin threats of digital and China, can a critical Wisconsin industry survive?

Philippines and Indonesia: The Cost of Gold

Tiny children and teens toil in the gold mines of the Philippines and Indonesia. A risky, often deadly, business, child labor is growing as families rush to exploit the worldwide demand for gold.

Papua New Guinea: Exxon Mobil's Gas Project

Is Exxon Mobil's natural gas project a heaven-sent opportunity to boost Papua New Guinea’s GDP, or a threat to the 60,000 people who can claim "customary ownership" of the land that will be affected?

Burma in Transition

After decades of isolation, Burma is taking fresh steps toward democracy. The West has strengthened diplomatic ties and trade, but familiar fault lines still threaten prospects for lasting stability.