One: Overview of Conflict Minerals
The Congo is home to the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II as there have been close to six million deaths in the Congo since 1996. The Congolese National Army and various rebel groups throughout the Democratic Republic of the Congo perpetuate this conflict. Because of the deadly conflict and the important resources this country is home to, the Congo has become the most prominent area for conflict minerals. Conflict minerals are minerals mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses. There are thirteen main mines and an estimated 200 mines total in the Congo, each largely controlled by rebel groups.
The four major minerals mined from the Congo are Tantalum, Tin, Gold, and Tungsten. Each of these minerals can be found in the technology we use every day. The armed groups make millions each year from selling these minerals because they control and tax the mines. With their profits, they purchase weapons and finance the violence and the conflict. The Dodd-Frank legislation is some of the only U.S. legislation opposing this current, horrific industry.
Two: Injustices and Slavery in the Mines
The mines have become a source of not only conflict minerals, but also a source of human slavery. Multiple armed groups, many of who have strategically attacked and raped civilians in order to gain control, run these mines. The armed groups are then financed by profits from the mineral resources, which are often extracted and transported using slave labor.
A report released by Free the Slaves found several forms of slavery taking place in the DRC, including the use of child soldiers, peonage, forced labor, sexual slavery, child slavery, and debt bondage. Some types of slavery are directly linked to the conflict and conflict minerals such as the abduction of civilians for forced labor and sexual slavery. Child slavery is also prominent among many of the armed groups and mining operations. Child slaves are often employed in some of the worst types of labor such as diggers at the mine sites, or porters assisting in the transport of conflict minerals. Children, especially girls, are also susceptible to sexual exploitation and slavery by mine operators and soldiers.
Because the workers in the mines are not paid fair wages, the armed groups can continue to finance their violence through the selling and taxing of conflict minerals.
Three: Conflict Minerals in our Technology
There are four minerals that the technology we use every day like phones, laptops, and digital cameras could not function without – Tin, Tungsten, Gold, and Tantalum. These minerals are commonly found in mines of the Eastern Congo, where the various militant groups control the mines and the local population. Each of the four minerals plays a different role in our technology, especially our cell phones. Tin is found on circuit boards, Tungsten causes your phone to vibrate, Gold coats the wiring in many electronics, and Tantalum (or Coltan) stores electricity in cell phones. The Congo is the most mineral resource rich country in the world, holding 64% of the world’s Coltan.
Some of you maybe asking, how do these minerals make it all the way from the Congo into my technology? The cycle of a mineral from the Congo looks something like this: mine à trading houses where they are smuggled out of Africa à international markets, mainly in Asia à transit counters à the refiners à your phone/laptop/video game/camera. In the factories, the minerals are mixed with other minerals from around the world, making them very difficult to trace.
Four: Companies Using Conflict Minerals
In order for people like us to purchase these products, companies must sell them. Though there have been improvement made in the past few years, companies still fund this conflict. The following companies sell technologies that often include conflict minerals:
¡ Motorola Mobility
I have divided these companies into three categories based on the percentage of progress made toward responsible sourcing on conflict minerals. The first grouping of companies has made les than 10% of progress, the middle group between 10% and 30%, and the final group has made 30% and over. In order to make progress, companies need to be successful in tracing their supply chains, being audited through the Conflict-Free Smelter, and work towards helping the Congo develop clean minerals through certification. Intel is the first company to publicly commit to having a conflict free product (a microprocessing chip) by 2013.
We as consumers have an important role to play. Because companies only produce products that will sell, it is our job to create a consumer demand for conflict free products. The following universities and colleges have enacted policies that support conflict-free technology:
¡ Ohio University
¡ St. Andrew’s University
¡ DePauw University
¡ Emory University
¡ University of Colorado-Boulder
¡ Clark University
¡ DUKE UNIVERSITY
¡ Pomona College
¡ Westminster College
¡ Stanford University
¡ University of Pennsylvania