Due to all the stuff thats going on with Apples and Foxconn, I thought I'd get some ideas over a similar problem which is more widespread across the tech industry. Not many people know where their gadgets or electronics stuff actually came from. Where and how have the gadgets been assembled? This is a question that is hardly asked as people rip open their iPhone boxes and start flirting with Siri. But by no means am I just talking about Apple products. This article applies to all aspects of the electronics world. Mobile phones, tablets, mp3 players and others use the same materials in their manufacturing. The world is mostly aware of conflict diamonds. These diamonds are sold through the pillars of war and the money made from the diamonds are used to continue funding wars and to increase the fighting around mines that harvest diamonds. Many people would die to provide a diamond that might make it to onto a diamond ring. What most people don't know is that this also affects the gadgets that we know and love today. The reason why conflict minerals aren't as exposed as conflict diamonds boils down to the fact that the minerals are used in so many of our everyday electronics and the money made from these electronics helps economic growth in many countries which would would otherwise take a very big and negative hit if said electronics were to be stopped being sold until the conflict in Congo (where the mines and conflicts are) was stopped.
TANTALUM is used primarily for the production of capacitors, particularly for applications requiring high performance, a small compact format and high reliability, ranging widely from hearing aids and pacemakers, to airbags, GPS, ignition systems and anti-lock braking systems in automobiles, through to laptop computers, mobile phones, video game consoles, video cameras and digital cameras. In its carbide form, tantalum possesses significant hardness and wear resistance properties. As a result, it is used in jet engine/turbine blades, drill bits, end mills and other tools.
CASSITERITE is the chief ore needed to produce tin, essential for the production of tin cans and solder on the circuit boards of electronic equipment. Tin is also commonly a component of biocides, fungicides and as tetrabutyl tin/tetraoctyl tin, an intermediate in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and high performance paint manufacturing.
WOLFRAMITE is an important source of the element tungsten. Tungsten is a very dense metal and is frequently used for this property, such as in fishing weights, dart tips and golf club heads. A significant amount of the tungsten is used as tungsten carbide. Like tantalum carbide, tungsten carbide possesses hardness and wear resistance properties and is frequently used in applications like metalworking tools, drill bits and milling. Smaller amounts are used to substitute lead in "green ammunition." Minimal amounts are used in electronic devices, including the vibration function of cell phones and Blackberries.
These are the main minerals that are used in pretty much all of our electronic gadgets today. The problem here lies in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Congo has mines that house so much of these minerals but unfortunately, the unstable country's government has lost full control of the mines a very long time ago. The militias that pretty much run the Congo and do as they please are the ones that run the mines and enforce slave labour to work at the mines. All the major manufactures including Apple, purchase all their minerals to use in their manufacturing process through middlemen and the money that is bought in from the sale of the minerals are used for more ammunition and weapons for the various militia. This issue has always been taking a backseat as the world looked at the amazing innovations that the tech companies were releasing but not questioning how these devices were being made.
When it comes to the Mines themselves, the ones in eastern Congo are often located far from populated areas in remote, insecure and inaccessible regions. A study recently showed armed groups are present at more than 50% of mining sites. At many sites, armed groups illegally tax, extort, and coerce civilians to work. Miners, including children, work up to 48-hour shifts amidst mudslides and tunnel collapses that kill many. The groups are often affiliated with rebel groups, or with the Congolese National Army, but both use rape and violence to control the local population. All the materials used in your gadgets are coming from these conditions and unfortunately companies are turning a blind eye as they buy the materials that are essential to their devices being made.
Several laws have been attempted to curb the conflict mineral exporting. The law was first introduced in 2009 by an American senator and various laws have been attempted but most do not address the underlying issues of the conflict minerals or attempt to help stop the fighting altogether.
The Dodd-Frank Legislation is a part of the U.S. Government's Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, signed into law in July 2010, Section 1502 requires American companies to ensure the raw materials they use to make their products are not tied to the conflict in Congo, by auditing the mineral supply chains. But what are Due Diligence Guidelines?
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas provides management recommendations for importers, processors, and consumers of Congolese minerals. These guidelines provide a practical roadmap for companies who want to keep conflict minerals out of their supply chains.
The Dodd-Frank Act’s provision, signed into law in July 2010, requires companies to trace and audit their supply chains in order to ensure their products are not financing atrocities occurring in eastern Congo. Through this legislation, the U.S. Government will lead the way to making due diligence in minerals supply chains mandatory.
The Dodd-Frank Act provides the commercial leverage to catalyze reform. The U.S. Government can use its convening power to bring together companies, regional governments, and NGOs to fix loopholes in the certification system, develop a monitoring system, and use diplomatic leverage to generate political will to implement it. The current law is designed to protect the tech companies themselves rather than the innocent Congolese people who are dying in awful conditions while they work in mines to gather the minerals that we need in our gadgets.
The bottom line is that armed groups earn hundreds of millions of dollars every year by trading conflict minerals. These minerals are in all our electronics devices whether we want them to be or not. Government troops and militias fight to control the mines, murdering and raping civilians to fracture the structure of society.
I am as guilty as everyone else in ignoring the issue and continuing to buy these gadgets and it doesn't look like things are going to change anytime soon. But we need to raise awareness regarding this issue. The companies need to know that we are fully aware of what is going on and need to see some change. It's hard to understand that the materials in our gadgets that we can't see are in our phones at the mercy of militia, killers and rapists back in the Congo. Yes, we are going to continue using new gadgets and computers for a very long time. But please remember, there are people out there, just normal human beings like you and me, that have died in order for the latest gadgets to be in our possession.