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.

Steps Toward a Solution

These six steps connect our cell phones and computers to the conflict in eastern Congo. This connection presents an opportunity for consumers to make a difference by demanding that companies sell us verifiably conflict-free products.
 
A recent Enough Project strategy paper provided an overview of a comprehensive policy to end the trade in conflict minerals, incorporating corporate responsibility, security measures, governance reforms, and livelihoods initiatives.[17] Consumers and companies have a critical role to play, by demanding three steps to enable Congo’s minerals to benefit its people rather than the armed groups that prey upon them:
  • Trace: Companies must determine the precise sources of their minerals. We should support efforts to develop rigorous means of ensuring that the origin and production volume of minerals are transparent.
  • Audit: Companies should conduct detailed examinations of their mineral supply chains to ensure that taxes are legally and transparently paid to the Congolese government and guard against bribery and fraudulent payments. Credible third parties should conduct or verify these audits.
  • Certify: For consumers to be able to purchase conflict-free electronics made with Congolese minerals, a certification scheme that builds upon the lessons of the Kimberley Process will be required. Donor governments and industry should provide financial and technical assistance to galvanize this process.

What You Can Do:

Your cell phone doesn't have to fuel the deadliest war in the world. Use it to change the equation for Congo. It’s your call to make.
  1. Call, email, or meet with your Senators and urge them to both cosponsor and help strengthen the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 (S.891). Talking points can be found at www.raisehopeforcongo.org or you can dial the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.
  2. Help us increase demand for conflict-free electronics. Visit www.raisehopeforcongo.org to email the biggest buyers of Congo’s conflict minerals—major electronics companies—and let them know that you want to buy conflict-free products. The message is clear: “If you take conflict out of your cell phone, I will buy it.”
  3. Stay in touch! Text the word “Congo” to 228488 (spells ACTIV8) to get updates and actions from RAISE Hope for Congo.
 


[1] There is also currently a House bill being drafted by Rep. McDermott, which would require audits of minerals refining facilities, and which some electronics companies have reportedly supported. Jonathan Broder, “In the Business of Change,” Congressional Quarterly, September 14, 2009.
[2] For a background on the crisis, see John Prendergast and Noel Atama, “Eastern Congo: An Action Plan to End the World’s Deadliest War,” (Washington: Enough Project, 2009).
[3] Janine Zacharia, “Clinton Calls on Congo to Stop Mineral Wealth Funding Conflict,” Bloomberg News, August 11, 2009.
[4] The 3Ts are produced from mineral ores: tin from cassiterite, tungsten from wolframite, and tantalum from columbite-tantalite, known throughout Congo as coltan. To the untrained eye, these minerals look like ordinary rocks, and are often found together in the same ore. For gold, there are three types of mines – underground, in which miners carve out a section of a mountain and dig tunnels beneath the earth; pit, in which miners dig in open ditches; and alluvial, which is panning for gold in rivers, similar to the methods used during the California gold rush over a century ago. See also Dan Fahey, “Le Fleuve D’Or: The Production and Trade of Gold from Mongbwalu, DRC,” (L'Afrique des Grands Lacs Annuaire 2007-2008).
[5] This includes North and South Kivu, and the major mines are identified as Minembwe, Misisi, Mpofi, Bisie, Gakombe, Bwina, Benzia, Wamiti, Lugushwa, Kinyinya Millimani, Ihana group, Bibatama – Rive Gauche, and Mugerero, each of which have over 500 workers at the mine site. See, “Interactive map of militarised mining areas in the Kivus (August 2009)” available here.
[6] At the mines that are not controlled by armed groups, civilians work together with local chiefs to exploit the minerals. In addition, there are sizeable mines located outside of the conflict zone in the neighboring provinces of Katanga and Maniema, whose trading routes pass through the Kivus. See also, Steven Spittaels and Filip Hilgert, “Accompanying note on the interactive map of militarised mines in the Kivus”, available at http://www.ipisresearch.be/fck/file/20090810_mining_kivus.pdf.
[7] Interview with civil society mining expert, Bukavu, June 10, 2009
[8] Interviews with mining inspectors and civil society representatives, June 10, 2009
[9] Cadet Abedi, “La RDC perd 70 millions $US à cause de la fraude du métal jaune,” AllAfrica.com, July 15, 2009, available here.
[10] Sometimes this stage is skipped, and the minerals are flown directly to refiners in Step 5. In other cases, metals trading companies based mainly in Europe buy the minerals from Congo and Rwanda and sell them onto refiners.
[11] “Uganda Ministry of Energy and Minerals, Annual Report for 2007”.
[12] The official price reported in Rwanda in 2007 was US$7.09 per kg of tin ore, but the world price for tin in 2007 was US$14.10. While allowing for lowered prices of tin ore before it is smelted, there is still potentially a price discrepancy here, meaning that the real value of exported tin ore from Rwanda could be higher. There is a vast discrepancy between what H.C. Starck paid for tin ore from Rwanda (an average of $12,410 per ton in 2007) and what other companies paid (an average of $7,603 per ton). The overwhelming majority of these minerals came from eastern Congo. See Nicholas Garrett and Harrison Mitchell, “Trading Conflict for Development: Utilising the Trade in Minerals from Eastern DR Congo for Development,” (Resources Consulting Service LLC, 2009).
[13] The refiners sometimes also have related companies which process the metals into alloys and solder, in order for them to be usable in electronics and related products.
[14] Some of the minerals, such as tantalum, are chemically processed using a heated salt mixture rather than smelted into metals. There are currently no smelting or chemical processing facilities in Central Africa, although there is a tin smelting plant in Gisenyi, Rwanda that may soon reopen.
[15] The top 10 companies produced 259,711 combined tons of tin in 2007, and the United States Geological Survey estimates that world tin production in 2007 equaled 320,000 tons. ITRI, “Review of Tin Use and Recycling for 2007”; United States Geological Survey, “Report for Tin,” 2009.
[16] ITRI Fact Sheet, “Tin Supply from the Democratic Republic of Congo,” available here.
[17] The Enough Project with Grassroots Reconciliation Group, “A Comprehensive Approach to Congo’s Conflict Minerals,” (2009), available here.