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Congo Bleeds for Our Electronics

November 29, 2009

Behind these children, an entire village was burned by one of the main armed groups, the FDLR, as a means of intimidating the local population. The FDLR controls many mines in eastern Congo. Source: Grassroots Reconciliation Group / Sasha Lezhnev

Tonight, CBS’ 60 Minutes exposes how the trade in Congolese minerals, used in cell phones, laptops, and dozens of other electronics made by Apple, Nokia, Nintendo and other companies, is fueling the deadliest war since World War II. While the electronics industry, the largest consumer of the minerals from eastern Congo, profits from cheap raw materials, an estimated $180 million annually goes to armed groups in Congo from the trade in four main minerals: the ores that produce the metals tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold.

Electronic devices require these specialized metals. Tin is used to affix components to circuit boards; tantalum is a vital element of capacitors; tungsten is used in vibrate alert functions and LCD displays. But mineral mines in Eastern Congo, one of the world’s largest sources of these minerals, are controlled by armed groups who perpetrate some of the world’s worst human rights abuses, while profiting from taxes on the trade in conflict minerals as well as the exploitation of local workers and communities.

Some companies, including HP, Dell, Intel, and Motorola, are developing a multi-industry forum to help develop transparency, accountability and assurance mechanisms in the supply chain of extracted metals. The Congo Conflict Minerals Act, introduced by Senators Brownback, Durbin, and Feingold, would create State Department and other efforts to investigate and eliminate minerals trade related to conflict, and encourage electronics companies to exercise due diligence when purchasing raw materials.

Consumers can also take action. By sending a message that we will not buy from companies that ignore the human rights violations committed by suppliers of raw materials, we can use the power of the marketplace to help end violence in the Congo.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 30, 2009 7:30 am

    As a ten year employee in the jewelry industry, I must say that this issue may be overlooked (at least in my circle of colleagues). With all of the fuss made about “blood diamonds,” which may or may not have died down considerably, as consumers and professionals we really need to examine all of the jewelry-related issues that affect other parts of the world and humanity in general. There is a lot of buzz about green or recycled gold. Hopefully this will raise concern about the source of gold being purchased. It will also be interesting to see how the people that mine platinum and palladium position their metals against this story and issues.

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