From Mine to Mobile Phone: The Conflict Minerals Supply Chain

 

Enough experts lead you down the path of the 3Ts—tin, tantalum, tungsten—and gold from the mines of Eastern Congo all the way to your cell phone.

At present, the only system that the exporters use to avoid buying conflict minerals is verbal assurance: they simply ask, “Did you get this from a conflict area?”

Increasing pressure on electronics companies to ensure that their products do not contain illicit minerals from the killing fields in eastern Congo is beginning to have a significant impact. With bills on conflict minerals moving through Congress, the electronics industry has spent about $2 million per month lobbying Senate offices to relax the legislation, which would increase transparency in the supply chains for tin, tantalum, and tungsten, or the 3Ts.[1]

These mineral ores, as well as gold, are key elements of electronics products including cell phones and personal computers, and also are the principal source of revenue for armed groups and military units that prey on civilians in eastern Congo. Congo’s mineral wealth did not spark the conflict in eastern Congo, but war profiteering has become the fuel that keeps the region aflame and lies beneath the surface of major regional tensions.[2]

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighted the link between armed conflict, sexual violence, and minerals when she visited eastern Congo in August 2009, arguing that the world needs to do more “to prevent the mineral wealth from the DRC ending up in the hands of those who fund the violence.”[3]
 
The most effective way to achieve this goal is to ensure transparency in the consumer electronics supply chain to certify products as conflict-free. But many electronics companies maintain that their supply chains are too complex for this, because of the sheer number of actors involved in moving minerals from mines in Congo all the way to the gadgets in our pockets.
 
We traveled to eastern Congo shortly before the Secretary’s trip to better understand how the 3Ts and gold make their way from conflict-ravaged areas in North and South Kivu all the way to cell phones, laptops, MP3 players, and video game systems. From this ground level view, the conflict minerals supply chain is far less intimidating than the industry would have consumers believe. In fact, the journey from mine to mobile phone can be broken down into six major steps that make the supply chain relatively easy to understand.
 


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Source: Grassroots Reconciliation Group / Sasha Lezhnev