The Genocide Behind Your Smart Phone
CONFLICT-FREE ELECTRONICS: Take Action
FORM: To contact the 21 Major electronics manufacturers
It takes a lot to snap people out of apathy about Africa’s problems. But in the wake of Live Aid and Save Darfur, a new cause stands on the cusp of going mainstream. It’s the push to make major electronics companies (manufacturers of cell phones, laptops, portable music players, and cameras) disclose whether they use 'conflict minerals'—the rare metals that finance civil wars and militia atrocities, most notably in Congo.
The issue of ethical sourcing has long galvanized human-rights groups. In Liberia, Angola, and Sierra Leone, the notorious trade in 'blood diamonds' helped fund rebel insurgencies. In Guinea, bauxite sustains a repressive military junta. And fair-labor groups have spent decades documenting the foreign sweatshops that sometimes supply American clothing stores. Yet Congo raises especially disturbing issues for famous tech brand names that fancy themselves responsible corporate citizens.
A key mover behind the Congo campaign is the anti-genocide Enough Project: witness its clever spoof of the famous Apple commercial. Major names like Hillary Clinton and Nicole Richie have gotten on board. And the timing is perfect: new rules requiring American-listed companies to improve their supply-chain transparency are folded into the financial-reform bill that passed Congress this week.
Congo is a classic victim of the resource curse. Its bountiful deposits—in everything from copper to diamonds—are brazenly plundered by corrupt governments and regional warlords while the population goes without basic services. Today, most violence—including mass rape, slavery, mutilation, and possibly even forced cannibalism—is concentrated in the war-ravaged eastern Kivu provinces, where the Congolese Army and ethnic militias bludgeon each other over the right to trade in mineral ore. One study estimates 5.4 million people have been killed since 1998; 45,000 fatalities still occur each month. Infant mortality and death from HIV/AIDS are also rampant—Congo ranks 16th and sixth-highest in the world, respectively, on these measures.
Still, minerals like tantalum, tin, and tungsten are essential for our wired lifestyle. Tantalum — of which Congo produces about 20 percent of world’s supply—makes capacitors that store electric charge, allowing our devices to function without batteries. Tin is used to fortify circuit boards. Tungsten helps our iPhones vibrate.
But this dependency has a cost in human rights. The U.N. Group of Experts reported last year that the annual trade in gold, tin, and coltan (or tantalum ore) delivers hundreds of millions of dollars into the coffers of the FDLR militia, whose myriad factions include Congolese Army renegades and Hutu fighters associated with the 1994 Rwandan genocide. With irregular arms delivery tracked from North Korea and Sudan, there is little doubt that bounty funds butchery.
Humanists for Social Justice and Environmental Action supports Human Rights, Social and Economic Justice, Environmental Activism and Planetary Ethics in North America & Globally, with particular reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other Human Rights UN treaties and conventions listed above.