Workers dig at a gold mine in Chudja, near Bunia, northeastern Congo. The conflict in the Congo has often been linked to a struggle for control over its minerals resources.
December 15, 2010
What’s the true cost of that mobile phone in your pocket?
That’s the big question human rights group Enough Project wants you to ponder this year as it urges holiday consumers to be strategic when buying electronic gifts.
At issue: whether their new high-tech items were produced using “conflict minerals.”
The mobile phones, laptops, tablets and other electronic gadgets that define our age are all made with tin, tungsten, tantalite and gold. Those increasingly valuable minerals are mined in eastern Congo — where their profits are blamed for fueling the region’s ongoing war.
A new survey urges American consumers to press electronic manufacturers to make sure that their products do not contain minerals that cause war, mass rape, murder and exploitation in eastern Congo.
The world’s top 21 electronics firms are ranked according to their efforts to make their products “conflict free” in a survey published Monday by the Enough Project, a Washington-based pressure group.
HP is the best, according to the rankings. Intel, Motorola and Nokia ranked two, three and four, respectively. Microsoft and Dell round out the top five.
At the bottom of the rankings were camera-maker Canon, electronics companies Panasonic and Sharp, and video game giant Nintendo, all of which are deemed by Enough to have done nothing.
The scores were based on the steps the companies have taken, according to their responses to a Enough’s survey and publicly available information, said David Sullivan, research director for the Enough Project.
“As the scores show, we still have a long way to go but we are pleased at the positive momentum from the companies at the top of our list,” Sullivan told GlobalPost. “The leaders have set the pace and pushed others to follow.”
Sullivan said the industry has formed a working group to coordinate their response to the challenge and added that if the companies work together they wield a great deal of influence.
“Although Congo’s conflict stems from long-standing grievances, the trade in conflict minerals provides the primary fuel for the conflict,” according to the Enough Project report, “Getting to Conflict-Free: Assessing Corporate Action on Conflict Minerals.”
All these minerals are found in large quantities in the mines of eastern Congo. The mines are controlled by armed groups that levy illegal taxes and extract vast profits that run into the hundreds of millions of dollars a year. The miners are paid meager wages and work under terrible conditions. The profits from the mining are used to buy the guns and bullets that have kept eastern Congo in a near-constant state of conflict since 1996, according to human rights campaigners.
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