Conflict Minerals and Their Consequences

Joy Luo

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Many area people may not know that their mobile phone, jewelries, computer, and gaming system all contain valuable minerals, which might be found in countries far away. Some of these valuables may even fuel violence in far off places, particularly in the Great Lakes region of Africa, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo (the DRC).

These minerals are called conflict minerals because a portion of their profits indirectly fuel conflicts in Africa. Conflict minerals include tin, tantalum, tungsten, coltan, cobalt and gold, and are in abundant in consumer electronic products. For example, armed groups in the DRC earn a lot of money every year by trading conflict minerals, and can be found in many of the products we use every day, especially smart phones.

So how do these minerals end up in our consumer products? Once the minerals are mined, they are smuggled out of the country and then shipped to smelters around the world for refinement, mostly in Southeast Asia. Once conflict minerals are processed this way, it’s difficult to trace their origin and they can easily make their way to the United States and all over the world in consumer products. The number of civil conflict deaths due to the mining and smuggling of conflict minerals is alarming; it is estimated anywhere from 2.5 to over 5.4 million people in the DRC have died due to the civil war. 

However, there is a simple solution to help end this trade in conflict minerals. We can work together by buying less products that contain conflict minerals and creating a demand for conflict-free minerals. Just like buying organic produce, fair trade coffee, or ethical diamonds, taking this small yet conscious step in your everyday life will save numerous lives and help decrease the amount of civil conflict violence in African countries like the DRC.

How can you do this? Below are company rankings that the nonprofit, The Enough Project, produced in 2012, evaluating the effort tech companies were taking to make sure their minerals were sustainably sourced. While Nintendo no longer scores a zero, and Apple has stepped up even more, companies are still lagging behind, even with some good recent news from the US State Department. You can pledge to buy from the companies who have good scores, and write to the ones who are low on the ranking. It is a simple “google” to find recent news related to your favorite tech company and their contact information on this subject.

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Conflict Minerals and Their Consequences