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I recently published the following article in my college paper, The Brandeis Hoot.  I encourage everyone to read it, and also to read more about the subject.  I know you all own a computer (you're here) and probably own cell phones and cameras.  But I'll bet most of you haven't thought about what it takes to make those devices.

Read it at our site, or head below the fold.

Not since World War II has the world seen a conflict as deadly as the one currently raging in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It is beyond comprehension. Imagine boys younger the age of 15 being taken from their homes and forced to kill by their abductors—and used as human shields if they are not strong enough to carry weapons.

Imagine groups of men entering villages and brutally raping women and girls in order to intimidate the locals.

Imagine a democratic government that is so corrupt that it is unable to assuage its country’s suffering.

This is one of Africa’s least-fortunate countries. Since 1996, more than 5.5 million people have died and 1.5 million have been displaced internationally as a result of fighting that kills 45,000 each month. Most of the deaths are not due to combat injuries but to malnutrition, malaria, and pneumonia—treatable causes that can not be addressed in the chaos.

Of the dead, 47 percent are children.

In America, talk of this conflict tends to be pushed aside by talk of more pressing foreign matters—say, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or even the genocide in Darfur. But we must not allow ourselves to forget about the Congo. We are the ones helping to fuel the conflict in the first place.

You might be doing it every day, when you talk on your cell phone or log onto Facebook. I might be doing it as I write this column on my laptop. Brandeis and many other schools might be doing it when they spend thousands of dollars on computer equipment.

We are all consumers of the four main minerals used to make consumer electronics: gold (which is used to coat wiring), tantalum (which stores electricity), tungsten (which makes cell phones vibrate) and tin (which is used to solder circuit boards). Large quantities can be found in the Congo, making it an ideal source.  Supplies, however, are controlled by armed groups who illegally tax these minerals and smuggle them to Asian countries, where they are refined and processed into components that are sold worldwide. Meanwhile, these armed groups make millions of dollars that they use to buy weapons and continue the war.

How do we stop this? It certainly wouldn’t hurt to lobby Congress to pass the Congo Conflict Minerals Act, which would require American companies to disclose the origins of the supplies they purchase. This would make it easier for the government to properly inform consumers about these companies’ business practices, allowing us to be wiser purchasers. Of course, since this bill has been stuck in committee since 2009, its only realistic chance of becoming law is if we force our elected representatives to move it forward.

We could also lobby electronics companies directly. Microsoft, Apple, Dell, Nintendo, Panasonic, HP, Nokia and all the other big names need to hear by letter, e-mail and phone call that consumers will only purchase goods that are made from ethically mined and refined minerals. Anything less is an affront to our sense of morality.

At the very least, if you have a little spare time after you finish reading this, you ought to pay a visit to, where you can read more about the crisis and learn about how you can take action, particularly on college campuses. Need I say that it’s the right thing to do?

Originally posted to angryreader18 on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 09:47 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Very informative post (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Clytemnestra, tegrat

    Thanks for bringing this obscure issue to our attention.

  •  Blood iPhones (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lefty Mama, Clytemnestra

    What worries me is that China will refuse to respect this law, import the materials and give manufacturers a clean "Minded in China" label. Thus circumventing the truth. Oh, it'll probably cost the manufacturers some $$$ to get that label but I'm sure the price will be open to negotiation.

    Wal*Mart isn't the root of all evil but you can buy the plastic, cadmium-tainted, Chinese knock-off of it there for $4.27

    by ontheleftcoast on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 10:03:19 AM PDT

  •  would it be better to establish an aid fund? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Are there alternatives to boycotts that might be more effective? China would have to boycott in order to make a difference.

    I'm sure the mines themselves are nasty, brutal places even without the conflicts going on throughout the Congo.

    If most of the deaths are related to bad living conditions, perhaps it would be more useful to provide aid to distressed populations - mosquito nets, water filters, food... schools.

    In a democracy, everyone is a politician. ~ Ehren Watada

    by Lefty Mama on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 10:48:15 AM PDT

  •  Thank you (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    One more example of how everything we do has a consequence somewhere.

    And though the Oligarchs have power, money and control, we, too can, and should, learn where we can make choices, which may help our neighbors realize that they, too, can make choices. And if that continues to spread......

    Now is the time for all good men to come to. - Pogo

    by DawnN on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 12:05:23 PM PDT

  •  glad your diary was rescued! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    This is an important issue and we need to continue to dairy about it and call more and more attention to it.

    I wrote my own dairy on this subject exactly a month ago Blood in my cell phone

    Maybe we should dedicate the 30th of every month to at least one diary on this subject

    Thank you angryreader18 for writing this

    Thank you bentliberal for rescuing it

    Still Boycotting Arizona. The "Arizona Two Step." HB 2162 just added a step to the SB 1070 dance. It's still the same. Protest! Boycott!

    by Clytemnestra on Fri Apr 30, 2010 at 08:27:48 PM PDT

  •  numbers and stuff (0+ / 0-)

    From Wikipedia

    The primary mining of tantalum is in Australia...Some other countries such as China, Ethiopia, and Mozambique mine ores with a higher percentage of tantalum, and they produce a significant percentage of the world's output of it. Tantalum is also produced in Thailand and Malaysia as a by-product of the tin mining there.
    The United States Geological Survey reports in its 2006 yearbook that this region (central Africa) produced a little less than 1% of the world's tantalum output for the past four years, peaking at 10% in 2000 and 2008.

    OK, not much tantalum from there, so a boycott would be fairly painless to manufactures.

    Tungsten is found in the minerals wolframite (iron-manganese tungstate, FeWO4/MnWO4), scheelite (calcium tungstate, (CaWO4), ferberite (FeWO4) and hübnerite (MnWO4). These are mined and used to produce about 37,400 tonnes of tungsten concentrates per year in 2000.[27] China produced over 75% of this total, with most of the remaining production coming from Austria, Bolivia, Portugal, and Russia.

    Once again, not too much from Africa as a whole.

    Tin - China and Indonesia turn out around 115,000 tons/year each, Peru 38,500, Bolivia 17,700, DRC 15,000 - about 4.4% of world production including recycled metal.

    Gold South Africa, China United States, and Australia are the leading producers, Russia and Peru are the other big players. DRC doesn't even show up, it's gold output is maybe a tenth of a tonne while Ghana, #10 in production, turned out 63 tonnes; world production was 2,469 tonnes.  So from the users' view, the DRC is down in the noise. Note that output from rebel held territory is not known with any accuracy.

    This suggests that for all of these metals the DRC is not a significant player, and that its contribution to your consumer electronics is low to zero.  It may be true that significant quantities of ores or concentrates are being smuggled out; for tungsten and tantalum some of China's output is from ores from Russia and South America.

    The small amount of production they do have is significant in terms of income to both parties, government and rebels. But the economy there is so trashed that lemonade stands would be significant income.

    The small amount of product means that it will be difficult to verify that the source of those metals does not include some contribution from the DRC. Boycotting will result in the reduction of prices for production from the DRC, making it more attractive and perhaps worth the effort to obscure the source. The minor amount of metals could easily be hidden in production from concentrates from other areas and in recycled metals.

    As a result, legislation such as the Congo Conflict Minerals Act are likely to be feel-good measures that make little to no difference, except possibly in the case of tin. The only way to be sure that materials from the DRC were not disappearing into the global supply would be to inspect every truck and rail car coming out of the country.  If the world could successful do that they could also greatly restrict the flow of arms into the country, which might be more effective.

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