There are four minerals that the technology we use every day (phones, laptops, digital cameras etc.) could not function without – tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold. These minerals are sourced in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where various militant groups control the mines and the local population. They force people, including children, into labour, tax them heavily and enjoy a large profit. The armed groups have used rape widely as a tool of war and a way to intimidate local people, and they have perpetrated some of the worst forms of torture. It is estimated around six million people have died and hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been raped, all while commanders earn millions of pounds each year selling these minerals for use in electronics.
Today, there is no such thing as a conflict-free market, let alone a conflict-free product out there. In a way, we are forced to carry a piece of this war with us. Many claim that Section 1502 of the 2011 U.S. Dodd-Act addresses these issues, but as Global Witness points out, there are no reparations or actual ban on the use of conflict minerals. It simply requires American companies to disclose the origins of the minerals present in their products. Companies though are already trying to fight Section 1502 and claim that the provisions are all optional.
Congo’s mineral wealth is only a piece of a vastly complicated problem, but it represents a direct connection we all have to this conflict- and highlights our responsibility to act.