Your mobile phone, your computer, portable music player, and gaming system, and other gadgets you use are the result of unimaginable torture people suffered somewhere in this world. Sounds Crazy? Not Indeed!
Gold, Tin, Tantalum, Tungsten (the “3 T’s”), are the main elements every electronic device uses to give you its best. These 3Ts are simply kind of minerals, which are digged out of earth. For your information Congo in Africa is the richest part of earth having millions of million tons of these essential elements for an electronic company to be interested in, in terms of extracting these precious minerals.
These rich mines are under the control of Government or Rebel Millitias in Congo. Locals in mining communities are forced to take part in the illicit mining economy. Money earned from the sale of minerals is used for personal profit and to further violent causes.
Armed groups earn hundreds of millions of dollars every year by trading these minerals which are in all our electronics devices. Govt. troops and militias fight to control the mines, murdering and raping civilians to fracture the structure of society. Minerals are smuggled out of Congo through neighboring countries, then shipped to smelters around the world for refinement. Once minerals are processed in this way, it’s difficult to trace their origin. Conflict minerals easily make their way to all over the world in consumer products.
For more than a century, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been plagued by regional conflict and a deadly scramble for its vast natural resources. In fact, greed for Congo’s natural resources has been a principal driver of atrocities and conflict through out Congo’s tortured history. In eastern Congo today, these mineral resources are financing multiple armed groups, many of whom use mass rape as a deliberate strategy to intimidate and control local populations, there by securing control of mines, trading routes, and other strategic areas.
This truth comes last month, when one of my business associates asked me to come along to Congo to find some business prospects in minerals used in the manufacturing of electronics, the friend was Daryl Bayliss from Melbourne.
We have never experienced anything like what I saw in the mines of Bisie. Armed groups had made a simple gate of sticks, and everybody going in or out had to pay them money. Around 15-25K people were trapped inside this village made of mud and plastic bags.
It was like stepping into the front yard of hell. Women every where were calling out their offers of sexual services to by passers as if they were selling vegetables. Boys as young as 12 stared at us with layers of dried mud on their cheeks, shy of the bright light after days underground digging out valuable minerals. Everything brought into the village is taxed at the gate; a bottle of water cost several dollars, a kilo of meat cost $12. But because it is more expensive to leave, people stay inside just to get a meal. Before leaving the miners’ village, I had rejected the idea of getting involved in.
Congo’s conflict minerals leave a trail of destruction as they make their way from the mines in eastern Congo to the mobile phone in your pocket. How does the process work? What is the human cost? What can consumers do to help end the violence being fueled by Congo’s illicit mineral trade?
We need transparency in business to spot the grim truth. Some things have not changed very much since colonial times, but instead of theft sanctioned by empires, it’s now controlled by markets.
Especially in Africa, companies operate with super-cynical exploitation of natural resources. Value simply disappears out of the continent without benefiting the local people. The funding needed for a boost of the developing world lies within the countries themselves, but the power lies with businesses who are willing to pay a fair price for the natural resources they import. For every euro the international community spends on development and humanitarian aid in Africa, 10 euros are going the other way in the form of natural resources. That is certainly not corporate social responsibility, like Nokia, Sony, Samsung, HTC think and tag them “Socially Responsible.”