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

By Guest Writer

Jul 15, 2009

International investment should be stepped up in agricultural development initiatives in eastern Congo, which mining has displaced in recent years. Good models for agricultural investments in mining areas exist in Sierra Leone. Other livelihood initiatives, such as small business development projects, should also be promoted. All projects should be designed in close partnership with miners themselves, and should also be followed up with education initiatives for miners.

Why purchase these minerals from the Congo in the first place? Aren't they readily available in other parts of the world?

These minerals are found in many parts of the world, but they are much less expensive to purchase from Congo. The percentage of the global supply of these minerals coming from Congo is relatively small, from one percent to 20 percent, depending on the specific mineral. Australia had been the world's largest producer of tantalum but recently suspended all production due to an inability to compete with cut-rate production from Central Africa, particularly eastern Congo.

It is important to note that the Enough Project is not calling for a ban or boycott of Congolese minerals, which would hurt miners. Instead, we encourage the development of tracing and auditing mechanisms to improve the transparency and legitimacy of the existing trade, so that over the long-term these resources benefit the Congolese people.

The site focuses on protecting and empowering women and girls. How does the extraction and sale of "conflict minerals" particularly harm women and girls?

Congo's protracted wars have led to incredibly wide and diverse violence against civilians by an array of armed groups. In particular, and control for the armed groups in Congo on an immense scale. The same armed groups that reap enormous profits from the mineral trade in eastern Congo regularly commit conscience-shocking atrocities as they jockey to control the region's most valuable mines, transportation routes and opportunities to impose extortionary taxes' on those involved in this trade.

Since the beginning of 2009 we've seen an increase in reports of sexual violence that has coincided with the renewed offensive by the Congolese armed forces against the FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu militia whose leadership was responsible for the Rwandan genocide. Many of these incidents have occurred in and around mineral rich areas of the eastern Congo.

What are the environmental repercussions of the economy surrounding the extraction and sale of conflict minerals? Are there environmental justice issues at play here (beyond forcing people to harvest these minerals against their will)? What are they?

Mining in conflict areas of eastern Congo takes place generally without regard for environmental protection. Pollution, erosion, deforestation, and poaching are all side effects of mining. In addition, armed groups such as the FDLR control mining areas in and around protected areas such as Kahuzi-Biega national park, where they threaten endangered species including gorillas.

The same armed groups that control the mining and trade of minerals are also involved in the illegal production of charcoal in national parks, which involves rampant deforestation. Dismantling the war economy and developing a legitimate mining sector with oversight by capable government institutions would mitigate these environmental impacts.

Are there "non-conflict" options already on the market for consumers?

At the moment, conflict minerals are a systemic problem for the entire consumer electronics industry. This underscores the need for consumers to ramp up the pressure on companies to trace and audit their supply chains to ensure they are not contributing to the conflict, and to help the development of conflict-free mineral supplies from Congo through a more transparent and legitimate trade.

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