The Conflict: The conflict mineral ores of tin, tungsten and tantalum, as well as gold, are key elements of electronics products including cell phones, personal computers even gaming systems like the Sony PlayStation. Unfortunately, they have also been the principal source of revenue for armed groups that have preyed on civilians in eastern Congo over the last decade. Congo’s mineral wealth did not spark the conflict in eastern Congo, but war profiteering has become the one the primary causes that has kept the region in conflict. Mineral resources have financed multiple armed groups, including those tied to foreign governments, many of whom have used mass rape as a deliberate strategy to intimidate and control local populations, thereby securing control of mines and trade routes*1. Figures estimated in 2010 include, 5 to 6 million killed, over 2 million displaced and 200,000 women raped *2. This “war for resources” has been the deadliest conflict since World War II.
The role of these minerals in the conflict and the lobbying of organizations such as the US-based Enough Project, led to the US Congress to add section 1502 to the Consumer Protection Act of 2010, aka, Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform. Now signed into law, this act requires all publicly traded companies that use the 3T minerals, tin, tungsten and tantalum, to fully document their supply chain. More recently in April of 2015, the European Union enacted similar reporting requirements.
Industry’s Role: The electronics industry is the single largest consumer of the 3T minerals, tin, tungsten and tantalum. These mineral ores are sold to refineries who process and refine the ores for industrial use. From the refinery, the metals generally go first into circuit boards and computer chips which are then sent to cell phone and other electronics manufacturers, and finally to the mainstream electronics companies such as Motorola, Intel, Apple, HP, Sony, etc. Notably, Apple was the first company to publicly identify its smelters in its supply chain, take part in a smelter training program and require all its suppliers to use audited, conflict-free smelters. Unfortunately, shortly after the enactment of the Consumer Protection Act of 2010, which included new supply-chain reporting requirements for all publicly traded companies, the electronics industry placed an all out ban on the purchase of these minerals from the DRC. The same industry spent millions per day in lobbying efforts to limit the scope and effect of these reporting requirements when this bill be being debated. Yet several industry leaders, namely Apple, Intel and Motorola, made proactive efforts to curb their use of these minerals recognizing the consumer demand for this reporting and, more importantly, the effect of the use of conflict minerals on the Congolese people.
The electronics industry is not the only one that uses the 3Ts and gold, but it is the largest. Other industries with a significant stake include tin can manufacturers, industrial tool and light bulb companies for tungsten, and aerospace and defense contractors, as well as the banking and jewelry industries in the case of gold.
Your Solution: As the consumer, what can you do? Just as you would check the ingredients for food that you would consume, check on the manufacturers reporting on their use of conflict minerals that they “consume” to manufacture your cell phone, computer or other electronic device. Do they merely avoid buying from the DRC or do they actively participate in programs that not only certify minerals to be conflict-free from the DRC but make efforts to repair the damage caused to the communities by this long-term conflict.
- Enough Project, “Conflicts Minerals”, available at http://www.raisehopeforcongo.org/content/initiatives/conflict-minerals
- Genocide Watch, “Genocide and Mass Atrocity Warning: Democratic Republic of the Congo – the Kivus”, 3 October 2012, available at http://www.genocidewatch.org/drofcongo.html