Ever wonder what makes a cell phone vibrate? The short answer is a mineral called Tungsten. How about storing up electricity in a mobile device? Answer: a mineral called Tantalum. Tin is used for soldering the tee-tiny circuitry in mobile devices and other electronics. Gold is used for coating wires.
The more important question, however, is where manufacturers are getting these minerals to help feed the world's insatiable need for mobile devices and other consumer electronics, like DVD players, gaming devices, laptops and digital cameras.
A good chunk of what are euphemistically being called "conflict minerals" are coming from the Congo, home to the deadliest war since World War II. The International Rescue Committee estimates that as many 45,000 people are being murdered there each month. More than five million have been killed since 1998.
Meanwhile 20% of the world's supply of Tantalum, for example, comes from the Congo and its profits are lining the pockets to arm the very same militia groups responsible for genocide and the systematic and widespread rape of women and young girls. The Congo is truly hell on earth.
It seems those $199 smartphones aren't as cheap as we thought.
So what is being done about this? So far, not much. More to the point; not enough!
Conflict minerals are reportedly being used by some of the biggest names in the tech industry, including Apple and Blackberry. Up until now, the major technology companies have felt it was enough to just go on the word of their suppliers that they don't use minerals from the Congo. To date, there is no mechanism to routinely audit these supply chains and verify where they get their materials. In other words, everyone's on the honor system.
Does that sound like doing enough to you?
Here's what you can do:
1. The latest draft of the financial overhaul bill working its way through Congress would actually do something about this; requiring tech companies to report use of conflict minerals in their products. Contact your congressmen or women and senators and urge them to make sure this part of the bill passes.
2. Note the brands on all your computer and consumer electronic devices. Contact them through their corporate web sites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts demanding that they come clean about conflict minerals so consumers can make informed buying choices or risk losing your business in the future.
3. Spread the word.
By the way, so what would it cost companies to make sure the Tantalum in their cell phones comes from Australia, instead of the Congo, for example? According to the Enough Project, about one penny per cell phone.
I'm certainly willing to pay $199.01 for my next smartphone. How about you?
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