Your smartphone or computer may be fueling one of the most barbaric wars in history, in which unspeakable atrocities are being committed at least in part to control minerals used to make laptops, smartphones, and gaming devices. You need not let it happen; there's something you can do to help stop it.
The war is being fought in Congo, as warlords finance their barbarities through selling mineral ore that contains tantalum, tungsten, tin, and gold. In the New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof has this to say about the war, "I've never reported on a war more barbaric than Congo's, and it still haunts me."
The brutality and barbarity of the war is unspeakable, including, Kristof says, "children who have been forced to eat their parents' flesh." Mutilation and rape are common. He says that 5.4 million people had been murdered in the war by April 2007, with a steady death toll of 45,000 a month, according to a study by the International Rescue Committee.
Tantalum, tungsten, tin, and gold are all used to manufacture the consumer electronics you commonly use. There are other places in the world those minerals can be found than in Congo. When they're taken and used from Congo, they're referred to as "conflict minerals," because they are fueling the war.
If electronics companies stopped buying those conflict minerals, it could help stop the war by cutting off a major source of money that pays for the militias.
Many electronics companies, such as Apple, have said that they aren't buying the conflict minerals. But the truth is that they don't really know whether they're buying them. That's because Apple and others rely on their suppliers to tell them whether the minerals come from Congo. Do you really believe suppliers will tell the truth about that? Of course they won't.
Motorola and Intel have begun developing a process to determine the origins of tantalum in supply chains, so that they can ensure they don't buy conflict minerals. The cost is minimal --- a penny per cellphone. Kristof writes:
Manufacturers previously settled for statements from suppliers that they do not source in eastern Congo, with no verification. Auditing the supply chains at smelters to determine whether minerals are clean or bloody would add about a penny to the price of a cellphone, according to the Enough Project, which says the figure originated with the industry
What can you do to help? Head to Raise Hope for Congo, which has launched a campaign to pressure companies to stop buying conflict minerals. You'll find a great deal of information about the issue, including what you can do about it.
From the site, you can also send email to the 21 biggest electronics companies, telling them that you will buy their products if they commit to no longer purchasing the blood minerals, and to "take the the conflict" out of their electronics. It will take you less than 30 seconds. You should do it now.
Also, if you want to learn more about the issue, watch the video below, a takeoff on the "I'm a Mac/I'm a PC" commercials.
This story, "Your iPhone or PC May Contribute to Real-Life War" was originally published by Computerworld.