Smartphones And Computers: "Bloodstains At Our Fingertips"

coltan mining congo photo

Image credit Mark Craemer

That is the headline of a powerful article in the Globe and Mail where they write that there is 25 Trillion dollars worth of untapped mineral wealth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Seven million people have died in the fight to control that wealth over the last twelve years. We all contribute to the tragedy every time we buy an electronic product: they contain tantalum that comes from the mineral Coltan (short for columbite-tantalite), dug out by hand, often by children, in Congolese mines. Tantalum capacitors are in our smart phones and almost every electronic gadget on the shelves.

Iain Marlow and Omar el Akkad describe the problem of finding conflict-free electronics: Even with more expensive Australian Coltan, you can't be sure.

"Recent reports state that Rwanda and others are using the war in Congo to continue the exploitation of coltan. Once it is extracted, we are told, it is then sent down to Australia, where it is mixed with Australian coltan - where 20 per cent of the world's coltan comes from - before being processed into tantalum," U.S. Senator Sam Brownback said in a 2008 speech on the senate floor. "Unfortunately, it is impossible to say with any certainty that the tantalum supply coming out of Australia is conflict free."

In the end, they conclude that it will be consumer education and pressure that will make the difference:

Ultimately, however, the movement to end the use of conflict coltan will largely rest on whether consumers come to acknowledge the link between sleek, state-of-the-art electronics and brutal violence in one of the most war-torn nations on Earth - and whether "blood phones" will become as current a phrase as blood diamonds.

More in the Globe and Mail

Jaymi has written that Nokia Is Serious about Avoiding Conflict Minerals and did a wonderful slideshow: The Incredible Story of Conflict Mineral Mining in Images Also see:
Major Electronics Manfacturers Ignoring Their Role in DRC Conflict Mineral Mining
Spoils of A "Looter's War" Destined For Your Laptop & Cellphone (Video)

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