At Mobile World Congress, Another Protest Highlights Tension With Barcelona

A group advocating for Catalan independence has scheduled a protest after a local worker was killed in an accident during the setup for the show.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read
MWC logo on a phone screen

A worker died during the setup for MWC 2023.

Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A worker who was killed in an accident during the setup for the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona has led a local rights group to schedule a protest outside the venue for Monday evening.

The 21-year-old worker, who was hired by a third-party event company called Artlogic, died while unloading heavy goods at the Fira de Barcelona venue where MWC takes place, according to Arran, a left-wing pro-Catalan independence youth organization.

A spokesperson for the GSMA, the mobile industry body responsible for organizing the event, confirmed the death of the worker in a statement to CNET.

"On 20th February, Fira informed the GSMA that a Fira sub-contractor injured in an accident earlier today succumbed to his injuries," said the spokesperson. "Our team is deeply saddened by the news of his death. Barcelona is synonymous with MWC, and more importantly, the people of Barcelona – our generous hosts – are integral to our event. Our thoughts and condolences are with the family of the individual involved."

Artlogic didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

For many years, MWC has sparked protests in Barcelona, highlighting the tension between a city that has welcomed the mobile industry, and a segment of the local population that resents it, instead using the international attention to campaign for their cause. Past demonstrations have included claims that wireless companies were destroying their way of life, and a visit by the King of Spain in 2018 during the show contributed to a citywide protest by those who want to see the region of Catalonia gain independence from the country. 

This year, protesters focused on labor rights. In a statement translated from Catalan, Arran said that the "accident was not accidental," but a result of "job insecurity." With daily work shifts lasting more than 10 hours, and salaries less than 7 euros per hour, worker's safety is not prioritized, it said.

Included in its statement were references to the harms committed by the mobile industry in Peru, Congo, Chile, Ghana and Zambia. There, Arran said, corporations were responsible for wiping out villages and communities that live off the land in pursuit of extracting materials used to make mobile phones.

The GSMA didn't comment on the specific charges.

The protest is due to take place outside the gates of Mobile World Congress at 6 p.m. local time on Monday.