By Neha Saraf
| In developed nations, we consider the smartphone essential for daily life. Many users feel lonely or anxious without smartphones. These mobile devices, along with other digital devices, are the cause of something much more sinister – the exploitation of workers. It is quite difficult to believe that your smartphone, a seemingly innocuous device, is capable of causing vast devastation. However, conflict minerals illustrate how the production of smartphones catalyzes horrific violence and corruption in the Congo.
As the name suggests, conflict minerals are minerals mined under dire conditions, including armed conflict & violations of human rights. The eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the most notorious regions for these conflict minerals, which are comprised of the three Ts – tantalum, tin, and tungsten – and gold. Unfortunately, these minerals make up the vast majority of supplies used by the world. The three Ts are used in the manufacturing of automobiles, sports equipment, and consumer electronics while gold is prominently used in jewelry. As seen below, cell phones utilize all of these conflict minerals.
The Enough Project summarizes the link between cell phone consumerism and worker exploitation in the Congo in the video below.
As seen in the video, armed groups in the Congo profit hugely off of these conflict minerals. They hire local villagers at gunpoint and physically force them to mine for these minerals. Villagers are often raped and beaten into submission, and so these villagers must mine in order to protect themselves and their families. The work conditions are horrendous – miners work in very hazardous locations, use makeshift tools, and wear no protection against the elements. Consequentially, many miners perish from these dangerous conditions. In fact, there are over 5.4 million Congo civil conflict-related deaths. The Congo armies gather 75% of their revenue from the mines and use it to buy more guns, hence the name conflict minerals. Minerals are then smuggled out of the Congo to Asia to be processed and shipped out as cell phones to consumers around the world.
Steps have been taken to tackle this enormous issue of conflict minerals. In 2010, President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection Act into law. Section 1502 of this act requires companies to identify where the minerals in their products originated from. Although this act has reduced Congo militia revenue by 65%, smuggling is still a major concern, with 65% of current trade involving smuggling. In addition, in 2014, Intel committed to a responsible supply chain by going “conflict-free” and producing microprocessors without any conflict minerals.
These actions are just the beginning towards a long fight to free the Congo people of conflict minerals. The senseless brutality of the Congo militias must stop, and as consumers of these products it is our duty to make sure that manufacturers stop using conflict minerals to create the products we desire. Not only is our consumption harming the environment, but also other human beings who deserve to be respected. Click on Raise Hope for Congo to join the fight against conflict minerals, and work towards conflict-free products.
Image 1: Flikr
Image 2: UCLU
Image 3: Interrete
Image 4: Intel