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Your Cell Phone's Blood Diamonds: Conflict Materials from Congo

By Guest Writer

Jul 15, 2009

By Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

Do you recycle your cell phones? It's a great practice for insuring that toxic materials in those old phones don't make their way into the environment. But what about the other side of the cell phone lifecycle? Do you know where the materials come from?

It turns out that many of the minerals in that phone have an ugly story behind them, similar to that of blood diamonds.

, a project of Participant Media, produced the PSA above as part of a larger campaign to educate the public about the role "conflict minerals" play in funding armed groups fighting in the Eastern Congo.

According to , a campaign of the :

The conflict in eastern Congo, the deadliest in the world since World War II, is being fueled by a multi-million dollar trade in minerals that go into our electronic products from cell phones to digital cameras.

Over five million people have died as a result of the war, and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in eastern Congo over the past decade. The armed groups that are perpetuating the violence generate an estimated $144 million each year by trading in four main minerals, tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold, all of which make our consumer electronics products function properly.

I spoke with David Sullivan, a research associate with the , about the issues surrounding the situation in the Congo. Sullivan addressed the multiple atrocities — human and environmental — surrounding the trade of these materials, and the actions you can take to ensure electronics manufacturers are aware of these issues.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q. Often, situations like these arise from limited economic opportunities. What other means of making a living are available in the Eastern Congo? Are there options that couldn't be as readily exploited by armed groups?

A. Impoverished Congolese miners and their families are often entirely dependent on their meager income from mining, and they to lift them out of this indentured servitude. What could be the most promising alternative to mining is agriculture, but the threat of violence often forces Congolese farmers to abandon their fields to flee for safety.

absolutely must be accompanied by international support for livelihoods and economic opportunities in eastern Congo. Rebuilding roads is a key opportunity, so that other sectors can benefit from trade. Infrastructure projects with guaranteed labor at decent wages can help lure miners out of conflict mines and create opportunities for demobilized combatants. Larger firms can raise miners' living standards if independently verifiable mechanisms are put in place to ensure that the corporations are not contributing to armed groups, and health, safety, and labor standards are observed at mining sites.

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