I'm a Mac, I'm a PC, I’m Financing Terrorism?

Tantalum [1] is a rare refractory metal used in many electronic devices such as cell phones, Blackberries, laptops and i-phones. While most tantalum mining occurs in Australia, about 20% of the world’s supply is in the Congo. Tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold are among the minerals being mined and smuggled out of the Congo and according to a group called the Enough Project, they are making their way into the supply chains of some of the most prominent technology companies.

The Congo has been ensnared in terrorism and horrifying atrocities for years. It is estimated that more than 5 million deaths, as many as 45,000 a month, have occurred in addition to untold numbers of women raped as terrorists intimidate the Congolese people into submission. [2]

The Enough Project claims that American technology companies are inadvertently financing Congolese terrorists and warlords. Apple, Intel and others claim that they have assurances from their suppliers that the tantalum they use is not coming from the Congo. [3] Enough counters that these assurances are not reliable and is promoting a campaign for consumers and Congress to take action. They’ve organized protests outside a new Apple store in Washington D.C., have testified before Congress and have created their own version of the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” video starring Joshua Malina (remember Will Bailey from the West Wing?). 

Admittedly, it is difficult to trace a complex supply chain through multiple countries back to the mines, but Enough says it’s doable. As a result of an August, 2009 visit to eastern Congo, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that more needs to be done “to prevent the mineral wealth from the DRC ending up in the hands of those that fund the violence” there. [4] Last month Congress voted to include conflict minerals language in the Financial Reform Bill. [5]

The U.S. government is paying attention and the technology companies need to do the same. This isn’t easy, but it is essential. The world’s view of corporate responsibility has shifted dramatically, as consumers and governments are requiring sustainable business practices including supply chain transparency and traceability.

Sources:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tantalum_capacitor

[2] www.raisehopeforcongo.org

[3] Fast Company http://www.fastcompany.com/1664584/im-a-mac-im-a-pc-i-fuel-atrocities-in... June 27, 2010 By Dan Nosowitz

[4] http://www.enoughproject.org/publications/mine-mobile-phone FROM MINE TO MOBILE PHONE: THE CONFLICT MINERALS SUPPLY CHAIN November 10, 2009 by Sasha Lezhnev and John Prendergast

[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHC0EfsWks8&feature=channel  “Conflict Minerals Amendment Makes Financial Reform Bill” June 25, 2010.

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