Major Electronics Manfacturers Ignoring Their Role in DRC Conflict Mineral Mining


Photo credit Mark Craemer

Recently we showed you images of one of the largest conflict mineral mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photographer Mark Craemer showed us what it is like to work in such a place, and gave insight into the awful workings of conflict mineral mines, the product of which goes into our electronics. Some major manufacturers, however, would rather not see these scenes. A new report by Global Witness calls out companies by name who are part of the trade through their knowing or unknowing purchases of the minerals. The Huffington Post points us to the report, saying:

The illegal mining and horrific human rights abuses against civilians - including the use of child soldiers and sexual violence as a weapon of war - have previously prompted a UN Expert Panel review that resulted in a large number of companies reforming their activities or leaving the country. Yet the new Global Witness report is clear: "no effective action has been taken to stop this murderous trade." Global Witness states that it is not calling for a complete trade embargo or targeting artisanal mining per se, but is focusing on stopping the mining intertwined with conflict and abuse.

Cassiterite and coltan are two of the conflict minerals mined in places such as the Bisie mine shown here by Mark Craemer, and used in everything from laptops to Mp3 players. The report's authors wrote to 200 companies that are involved in the trade somehow, and "found that most had no controls in place to stop ‘conflict minerals' entering their supply chain."

The report states most of the companies were "disappointingly evasive" about their policies and practices. For example, HP stated that it focuses on its first tier suppliers, and relies on the first tier suppliers to hold second tier suppliers to proper regulations - but that clearly means they aren't working to ensure their entire supply chain has nothing to do with conflict minerals. Nokia, as we've heard from them before, takes a stronger stance about making sure its supply chain is conflict mineral-free. Motorola, Dell and Apple, like the majority of the electronics companies responding, deferred most responsibility to those within their supply chain.

Patrick Alley, Director of Global Witness, states, "It is not good enough for companies to say they buy only from licensed exporters, when they know full well that their middlemen buy from armed groups."

While a small percentage of the supply of coltan comes from the DRC, it is important to ensure that none of our electronics are made of materials that come from conflict zones. The kind of human rights abuses and environmental abuses that occur because of mineral mining further underscores our need to move to recycled materials as the raw materials for new goods.

As Eve Ensler pointed out at D7, we need to be diligent about having conflict free electronics. Holding manufacturer's feet to the flame and requiring them to be equally diligent about where their raw materials are coming from - as Global Witness is doing through this report - is key.

Follow Jaymi on Twitter: @JaymiHeimbuch
More on Conflict Minerals
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The Incredible Story of Conflict Mineral Mining (Slideshow)
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Eve Ensler Calls for Rape-Free Cell Phones (Video)

Tags: Corporate Responsibility | Electronics | Gadgets