Conflict minerals— often tin, tantalum, tungsten, cobalt, coltan and gold– are any mineral that is mined in a manner that sacrifices human rights. It’s not a matter of free coffee in the lounge or paid vacation hours. We’re talking about murdering civilians to confiscate their land, bloody conflicts to control mines, modern slavery, smuggling, despicable wages, shoddy living conditions and child labor. In some cases, sales fund rebel groups that are known to harass, rape, and kill their fellow countrymen. Pretty rough stuff.
Though the conflicts first gained media attention in 2010 with another boom in 2012, many of us still don’t think of what was sacrificed so that we can check Facebook four times a day or Instagram photos of our sandwich at lunch. Sure, we use the technology for more important stuff but I want to drive home the point that people are dying over equipment that brings us convenience. It’s just not necessary.
There are also health and environmental components. Many of the mines contribute to toxic waste in water sources. Fresh water that nourishes residents and animals is contaminated with mercury, for example, that is used to extract gold and tin. Many of these unethical mines exists in the poorest parts of the poorest nations where people can’t go to grocery stores and buy purified bottled water. The workers and local residents are being poisoned. Pregnant mothers give birth to babies with severe defects.
Animals also fall to contamination. Animals in immediate range of toxic waters suffer from mercury poisoning. High mercury levels are also passed on to the predators that eat those animals, including humans and other animals. Their excrement and mercury-infused corpses further contaminate the water and soil. It’s all a seemingly endless, dangerous mess.
Thankfully, companies like Intel, HP, and Phillips are leading the way in conflict free technology with Microsoft, Apple, and Nokia following behind. Raise Hope for Congo has created a list of companies ranked according to their efforts to seek conflict-free materials for their products. Check out the list and keep a few of the leaders in mind next time that you go shopping.
When it comes to big issues like this, individuals may feel like they don’t have a voice strong enough to promote change. But of course you do. It’s called money! Buy from companies that are making an effort to clean up their acts and you are supporting the cause. Take it a step further and spread the word so that your friends and family members can make informed purchases, too.
Of course, you can literally make your voice heard by taking action, putting social pressure on local and foreign authorities to take more proactive measures that will save lives and promote wellness for one of the world’s most resource rich continents.
Whatever you do, don’t be passive and hope that the problem will fix itself.