No, I am not just swearing at my computer (though at times I really want to)!
What I am talking about is our phones, computers and gadgets that are made from the blood, sweat and tears of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. So yes, that new iPhone is rad or your new updated computer is super-fast and oh, it is so shiny but at what or whose cost?
Tantalum is a mineral that is derived from Coltan is dug out by hand in the DRC, unfortunately it is often children who are doing this. The Congolese mines are along the Congo River Basin and that is also a huge contributing factor to forest loss and affecting the wild mountain gorillas in the region.
Are you alarmed yet?
“Numerous government and human rights groups have drawn a direct line between coltan mining profits and the ongoing atrocities in the region, including dismemberment and gang-rape.
“This obscure mineral has had the distinction of effectively becoming a kind of blood diamond of the digital age,” professor Jeffery Mantz of George Mason University wrote in a 2008 Social Anthropology article exploring Congolese coltan mining.”
Tantalum capacitors are used in smart phones, computers and basically every single electronic that is built today.
“The global tantalum capacitor market is worth about $2-billion (U.S.) annually.”
Australia is a country that does also have large deposits of Coltan. This does come at a much higer price than the mines in the Congo. This price would be eventually passed onto the consumers, who may or may not be happy about this.
Though trusting only Australian mined Coltan which is conflict free is also becoming an issue
“Recent reports state that Rwanda and others are using the war in Congo to continue the exploitation of coltan. Once it is extracted, we are told, it is then sent down to Australia, where it is mixed with Australian coltan – where 20 per cent of the world’s coltan comes from – before being processed into tantalum,” U.S. Senator Sam Brownback said in a 2008 speech on the senate floor. “Unfortunately, it is impossible to say with any certainty that the tantalum supply coming out of Australia is conflict free.”
So what do we do now?
Firstly I understand that we are unable to boycott specific minerals and most people today would be horrified of living without a computer and we all understand what barriers have been broken by mobile phones and computers and the internet but what I want is for people to be able to understand and make the connection between having a new shiny computer/mobile phone/ipad/ereader/TV/MP3 player that it does come at a real human cost.
- We have brilliant industrial designers who (hopefully) are working their tails off to design new products that don’t rely on some of the minerals and materials that are rare or in conflict regions.
- We also hope that manufacturers and industrial designers are creating products that are built to last and not to fail.
- We have to be aware that we don’t need the latest and greatest of everything as it comes out onto the market.
- We have to be aware that just because we CAN upgrade our phone for free with our mobile plan, that we should.
- We have to be responsible for what we buy and how often we update it.
- We have to be careful and not break everything we own just because it only costs a fraction of what we earn to replace it.
- We have to demand that product manufacturers use materials responsibly –that includes the people that have to work with the materials and their welfare.
- We have to make our manufacturers close the loop and allow us to send back our products when their use with us has finished. They should be reusing and recycling parts of the products into new ones.
- We have to make sure we let our children know that they need to be aware, every single day of what they are doing. Being mindful is being human
- We just have to make this world better now… because who wants to leave this mess behind?
If you want to see rankings of the brands and their use of conflict minerals, I urge you to click through to read Conflict Minerals Company Rankings
DID YOU KNOW
It is estimated that 9 million new mobile phones sold in the last 12 months in Australia.
Australians typically upgrade their phones every 18-24 months!
As the forest is denuded for mining it can no longer shelter gorillas and other species from the bush meat crisis.
In Kahuzi Biega National Park, more than fifty percent of the mountain gorilla population have been lost. The species is on the brink of extinction.