Conflict Materials: Is Your Smart Phone Contributing to Genocide?

Newsweek has an interesting (read: “really depressing”) article about major electronics companies and where they get all their cool nifty materials for the smart phones Americans can’t get enough of.

It turns out that many companies are buying the rare materials (gold, tin, coltan, and tungsten (or tantalum ore)) we use in all sorts of gadgets (cell phones, laptops, etc) from military juntas in the Congo. If you know anything about Blood Diamonds, the economic cycle of supply and demand is the same. The western world who craves luxury items like diamonds (or in this case lap top computers) purchase the minerals from whoever controls them at the time, and then the poor folks in the area use that money to buy weapons and further their hold on a specific region or resource.

From the article:

The issue of ethical sourcing has long galvanized human-rights groups. In Liberia, Angola, and Sierra Leone, the notorious trade in “blood diamonds” helped fund rebel insurgencies. In Guinea, bauxite sustains a repressive military junta. And fair-labor groups have spent decades documenting the foreign sweatshops that sometimes supply American clothing stores. Yet Congo raises especially disturbing issues for famous tech brand names that fancy themselves responsible corporate citizens.

A key mover behind the Congo campaign is the anti-genocide Enough Project: witness its clever spoof of the famous Apple commercial. Major names like Hillary Clinton and Nicole Richie have gotten on board. And the timing is perfect: new rules requiring American-listed companies to improve their supply-chain transparency are folded into the financial-reform bill that passed Congress this week.”

I encourage you to check out the whole article and think about your consumption. Is it too much to ask that we as consumers monitor where the materials we use are coming from? Making sure you don’t buy a conflict diamond might be easier than making sure you don’t buy a conflict cell phone. And of course with resource limitation comes a higher price to you the consumer.

So what is ethical here? Does it matter if our habits help people in a far away land kill each other for control of their resources? Odds are these folks will find a reason to kill each other no matter what, but at what level can we bring in accountability and responsibility?

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~ by K. Ritcheson on July 19, 2010.

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