Adbusters

Our Cell Phones, Their War

Minerals in high-tech gadgets linked to Congo bloodshed.

An astonishing six million people are estimated to have died as a result of the conflict in the Congo – the largest war-related death toll since the Second World War. What is perhaps more appalling to citizens geographically removed from this conflict, is the fact that our consumption of seemingly indispensable high-tech gadgets – cell phones, mp3 players, laptops and video game systems – may have substantially contributed to this holocaust.

The conflict in the Congo is often described as “tribal,” but sober assessments by the United Nations, research organizations and the American government reveal something far more complex. The multimillion dollar trade of the Congo’s natural resources by foreign armies, rebels and militias has played an integral role in fueling the conflict – both by motivating armed groups to wage war, and by providing them with the cash to do so.

Here’s where the Western consumer comes in. Congolese minerals – after being dug up at gunpoint or taxed by brutal militias and rebels – often take a long international trip before ending up in our pockets and on our desks. Raw materials are traded in Central Africa, processed into electronic hardware in East Asia and eventually end up on the shelves of large electronics companies. As the final link in this supply chain, consumers are unintentionally funding the deadliest war in the world today – not something we equate with buying a new cell phone or laptop. John Prendergast, the co-chair of the Enough Project: an initiative to end genocide and crimes against humanity, notes “there are few other conflicts in the world where the link between our consumer appetites and mass human suffering is so direct.”

There are four main minerals that link our gadgets to the war. Tin is used as a solder on circuit boards of all electronic products; tantalum, or coltan, is used in capacitors that control the flow of electric current; tungsten makes our cell phones vibrate; and gold, a veteran conflict mineral, is used in many products for its resistance to corrosion.

By controlling these essential minerals within the global economy, rebels and militias – not to mention the governments that have directly supported them (including both the governments of Congo and Rwanda) – generate millions in profit, providing ample funds for armed groups to wage wars and terrorize civilians. Women and girls have disproportionately borne the horrific brunt of this conflict: the level and brutality of the sexual violence pandemic in Congo is unparalleled, affecting hundreds of thousands of women.

A grassroots campaign is developing to help end this war by focusing on its root causes. The targets of this growing movement are the powerful electronics companies that may unwittingly be using conflict minerals in their products. Letter campaigns and the threat of boycotting companies that refuse to investigate their supply chains are raising the level of pressure on markets already in decline as a result of the global recession.

On the political end, a bipartisan bill in the US Senate could require all US-registered companies selling products using tin, tantalum or tungsten to annually disclose to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) where the minerals were mined. If the company lists the Congo, or any of its neighbors, as the country of origin, then it would be obliged to name the specific mine.

A similar bill in Canada’s parliament is urgently needed to help end the war in Congo, which kills an estimated 45,000 Congolese every month. As engaged citizens we need to write to our members of Parliament, encouraging them to draft and support such a bill. Canada must show leadership by ensuring Canadians are not indirectly contributing to this bloodshed.

By building awareness of the relationship between tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold in our electronic goodies and the conflict in the Congo – and by translating that awareness into consumer and citizen pressure – we can play a key role in helping to end this holocaust in Central Africa. Without action, we will continue to sustain the Congo War … and an unprecedented amount of suffering and sexual violence.

Greg Queyranne, MA, is a Canadian researcher focusing on conflicts in Central Africa.

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38 comments on the article “Our Cell Phones, Their War”

Displaying 21 - 30 of 38

Page 3 of 4

hungover

much like the 'war on drugs', declaring 'war' on the producers/distributers of these products will inevitably fail. they already have us under control. we must educate and cure the addicts who abuse these products (cell phones, computers etc.)and in turn fuel this industry, thus removing the demand. using cell phones in Iran is one thing; 8 year old girls texting eachoer 158 times a day, or a few million college kids facebooking eachother about who f*cked who is quite another.

hungover

much like the 'war on drugs', declaring 'war' on the producers/distributers of these products will inevitably fail. they already have us under control. we must educate and cure the addicts who abuse these products (cell phones, computers etc.)and in turn fuel this industry, thus removing the demand. using cell phones in Iran is one thing; 8 year old girls texting eachoer 158 times a day, or a few million college kids facebooking eachother about who f*cked who is quite another.

Love's in short...

It's very sad, but the only method by which you and I are even able to know the connection between the minerals and your computer is........YOUR COMPUTER!!!!! How in the hell do you think you are disseminating this information? Sadly the cause of the wars and slavery in the Congo isn't going to be cured by not buying electronics. It would only be exacerbated due to the fact that it would remain unreported. The root of the barbarism in Congo is poverty and lack of consensus of the people on their leadership. Warlords will always fight & kill for power over people and the resource du jour until all share in the power and wealth!! Before we can stand on our (electronic) soap boxes and preach on just causes, we must first have a soapbox.

Love's in short...

It's very sad, but the only method by which you and I are even able to know the connection between the minerals and your computer is........YOUR COMPUTER!!!!! How in the hell do you think you are disseminating this information? Sadly the cause of the wars and slavery in the Congo isn't going to be cured by not buying electronics. It would only be exacerbated due to the fact that it would remain unreported. The root of the barbarism in Congo is poverty and lack of consensus of the people on their leadership. Warlords will always fight & kill for power over people and the resource du jour until all share in the power and wealth!! Before we can stand on our (electronic) soap boxes and preach on just causes, we must first have a soapbox.

Anonymous

technology is a powerful tool and resource...without it i would not have access to this important information...the true root of war is corruption at a government level,which filters down to the 'people' as poverty and inhumane quality of life...so, how can we truly make a difference?...take back our own government and then hold our representatives accountable for how our wealth is earned and distributed...shift the paradigm of greed to a paradigm of 'just what we NEED' and be conscious on a personal level with our dollar...because after all...our dollar is our only true vote...how we earn it and how we spend it is the creative force behind any revolutionary movement toward transformation of the world in which we ALL live... peace

Anonymous

technology is a powerful tool and resource...without it i would not have access to this important information...the true root of war is corruption at a government level,which filters down to the 'people' as poverty and inhumane quality of life...so, how can we truly make a difference?...take back our own government and then hold our representatives accountable for how our wealth is earned and distributed...shift the paradigm of greed to a paradigm of 'just what we NEED' and be conscious on a personal level with our dollar...because after all...our dollar is our only true vote...how we earn it and how we spend it is the creative force behind any revolutionary movement toward transformation of the world in which we ALL live... peace

Anonymous

"There are tribal and other reasons why the conflicts are going on, but get below the surface. "It's because there are mines in eastern Congo that produce the minerals that go into our cell phones and our other electronics. "There is a lot of money being made by a lot of people, but it sure isn't helping the people of the DRC." -Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State. Interview in Nairobi, Kenya. August 6, 2009. http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-08-06-voa40.cfm

Anonymous

"There are tribal and other reasons why the conflicts are going on, but get below the surface. "It's because there are mines in eastern Congo that produce the minerals that go into our cell phones and our other electronics. "There is a lot of money being made by a lot of people, but it sure isn't helping the people of the DRC." -Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State. Interview in Nairobi, Kenya. August 6, 2009. http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-08-06-voa40.cfm

irate

thank you very much for this article.... this issue is extremely important and does not get enough attention.... in response to the comments- yes, of course we all need our computers and cell phones to function in this world --- the point is- we need to pressure our electronics companies to demand that their suppliers are adhearing to basic human rights standards-- and not abusing, killing, and terrorizing their workers and citizens in the area. Look at the example of blood diamonds in Sierra Leone-- the mines had to clean up their act-- and all diamonds had to be certified that they came from a good mine. ..this system has its flaws- but at least Sierra Leone is way better than it was, and on the up and up... I think we should be pressuring the electronics companies + government officials to create a system for certifying these minerals ... and as consumers, only buy from companies which comply (at least dell has a page about the issue and seems to be working on it) . Adbusters-- please do a whole issue on this topic!! has there ever been a more direct, or more horrifying link between extreme wealth and extreme poverty?? extreme toys vs. extreme rape? what is this world coming to ??

irate

thank you very much for this article.... this issue is extremely important and does not get enough attention.... in response to the comments- yes, of course we all need our computers and cell phones to function in this world --- the point is- we need to pressure our electronics companies to demand that their suppliers are adhearing to basic human rights standards-- and not abusing, killing, and terrorizing their workers and citizens in the area. Look at the example of blood diamonds in Sierra Leone-- the mines had to clean up their act-- and all diamonds had to be certified that they came from a good mine. ..this system has its flaws- but at least Sierra Leone is way better than it was, and on the up and up... I think we should be pressuring the electronics companies + government officials to create a system for certifying these minerals ... and as consumers, only buy from companies which comply (at least dell has a page about the issue and seems to be working on it) . Adbusters-- please do a whole issue on this topic!! has there ever been a more direct, or more horrifying link between extreme wealth and extreme poverty?? extreme toys vs. extreme rape? what is this world coming to ??

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