Media has published about every detail of the new iPhone and almost every little thing is documented. The only thing which is not documented anywhere is a minor fact that – the phone like several other luxury electronics on the market, may contain minerals supplied by bloodthirsty Congolese paramilitary groups.
War for Tantalum, which is used to make capacitors, reminds us of the war for diamonds, or the Diamond conflicts. It reminds us of the controversy over the origins of so-called “Blood Diamonds”, or “Conflict Diamonds”, precious stones that financed violent warlords in the Côte D’lvoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and Angola, around the turn of the last decade. Now the human rights groups are targeting tech companies like Apple, Intel and RIM for alleged abuses caused by their supply chains.
Nicholas D. Kristof from New York Times wrote this weekend on the problem of “blood phones.” The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is currently involved in the bloodiest and most violent conflict this planet has seen since World War II. The last decade’s civil war has claimed over 5.4 million lives since 2007, and has earned the country eastern region the nickname “the rape capital of the world”. The country is home to rich deposits of Conflict Minerals and one of them is Tantalum which is sold by militias via unscrupulous suppliers to major tech manufacturers.
According to a 2008 report written by the New York Times, these conflict mineral mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo are worked by locals, including children in shifts that extend upto 48 hours. Over half of them work under the watch of armed men that coerce and subdue civilians with rape, violence and murder.
This is not to make the manufacturers like Apple directly responsible for the actions of such rebel groups, but this is to highlight that these companies simply settle for their suppliers assurances without verification.
Human rights organisations like The Enough Project have been petitioning tech companies through Facebook and YouTube to take the extra step and ensure tat their components are not giving oil to the Congolese violence. It was as a result of a protest against Intel; the Lawmakers have introduced an amendment to the recent financial reform legislation, saying that companies must report their use of conflict minerals. It in fact is a good move by the lawmakers and will at least ensure that people from these conflict mineral originating countries don’t suffer for other world’s comfort and style.
We are still waiting to see the electronic products to have the “conflict free” stamp on them just like many of the diamonds have on them. We should hesitate buying products which are not “conflict free” and that would be the least we can do for helping the people who are working in tortures 48 hours shift under the watch of gun. According to The Enough Projects calculation it will add only a penny to the price of iPhone if Apple spends some money in investigating the truth behind the “Bloody Tantalum”.