One of the most poorly kept secrets in the technology industry is the widespread use of conflict minerals from Africa. For years, as mobile phones and other electronics took a great leap forward, the world was unintentionally funding a civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Just like poppies fund the Taliban, oil funds ISIS, and cocaine fuels a wide range of organized crime in Latin America, supplying tantalum (along with other minerals) to the global economy has funded a civil war that has claimed millions of lives in the heart of Africa. The war in the Congo is considered the deadliest conflict since World War II.
Nevertheless, the world can’t live without certain minerals like gold, tin, tantalum, and tungsten, because they’re used in the manufacturing of electronics. In a tale that sounds remarkably similar to the plot of James Cameron’s Avatar, where the mining of “unobtanium” threatened the indigenous Na’vi with genocide, the technology minerals trade has been incredibly destructive.
Photo By: TxonäRolyu Via Flickr
Functioning much like the blood diamond trade, militia groups collected taxes from miners and would use the proceeds to rape, pillage, and plunder. In a quest to keep industry prices low and profits up, industrial conglomerates turned a blind eye to the horrific truth of the conflict mineral trade.
Luckily, corporations are attempting to clean-up their supply chains so that our consumer electronics aren’t indirectly funding violence halfway across the world. The Enough Project, a non-profit organization that seeks to end genocide and crimes against humanity, recently praised Apple’s new approach “to combat the deadly trade in conflict metals.” They say that while there’s still much work to be done, Apple is moving in the right direction along with other companies like Intel and Ford. Apple is now claiming that their supply chain is “100 percent audited of conflict minerals.”
Interestingly, the Dodd-Frank Bill, which was designed to regulate Wall Street following the Financial Crisis in 2008, has played a key role in cleaning up the industry. The legislation directed the Securities and Exchange Commission to issue rules that combat the use of conflict minerals. It directed companies to clean up their supply chains and disclose whether their products contain conflict minerals on their website. The European Union is also instituting strong regulations to stop the conflict minerals trade.
Companies still have a great deal of work to do in order to declare themselves 100 percent conflict free. Efforts such as the Conflict Free Sourcing Initiative is helping companies around the world get their supply chains audited and certified “conflict free.”
Unfortunately, for many ordinary Congolese miners, this transition toward a conflict mineral free world has driven them further into poverty. Dodd-Frank, what they call “Obama’s Law,” in this part of Africa, has led to widespread shutdowns as multi-national corporations have begun to avoid buying minerals from the conflict-plagued region.
Photo By OSISA Via Flickr
As miners face unemployment, they’re joining the very militias that this legislation targeted. It’s estimated over 10 million people in the Congo depend on small-scale mining to survive.
As the electronics industry tries to clean up its act, it’s facing many headwinds. Many industries face the same types of challenges as most conscious consumers don’t want their purchases funding horrific acts on the other side of the globe. We all desire a more sustainable world, but in the hyper-globalized world of supply chains, it’s hard to shut out the bad guys without impacting everyday citizens.
David is the Editor of Bold. He's especially passionate about millennial economic empowerment. A former local news reporter, David is originally from the Little Havana area in Miami, and later became a pioneer resident of the Disney-inspired town of Celebration, Florida. David holds a Master’s in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.