Amazon Video

Why Conflict Minerals Still End Up In Our Electronics

The minerals tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold are found in most consumer electronics, and can be mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which contains an estimated $24 trillion dollars in untapped mineral resources. Yet the DRC remains one of the poorest and most dangerous countries in the world, and mining these metals can help fund armed conflict in the region. Despite international attention and widespread regulations, it’s still hard to know exactly where our minerals are coming from, and under what conditions they were mined.

But the metals are integral to consumer electronics. In a smartphone, for example, tin is used to solder metal components together, while tantalum is used in capacitors, which store electrical energy. Tungsten is used in the components that make a phone vibrate, and gold is used in circuit board connectors.

In the past decade, African countries, intergovernmental organizations and companies have ramped up their efforts to clean up mineral supply chains. But consumers still can’t be sure if the minerals in their electronics are fully conflict-free, or if the mines where they originated are dangerous, environmentally destructive, or use child labor.

“The whole process is muddied,” says Oluwole Ojewale, the Regional Organized Crime Observatory coordinator for Central Africa at the Institute for Security Studies in Dakar, Senegal.

That’s largely because in the DRC and surrounding countries, hundreds of thousands of people work in the informal mining sector, toiling away using hand tools in what are known as artisanal and small-scale mines. This type of mining can be hazardous and difficult to regulate, but it’s also one of the few sources of income available to some of the world’s poorest men and women.

So while companies like Apple, Microsoft, Intel and Tesla put out extensive reports on conflict minerals every year, usually stating that there is no reason to believe the minerals they source help to support armed groups, corruption and instability at mine sites means there are no guarantees.

Apple, Intel and Tesla did not reply to requests for comment, while a Microsoft spokesperson stated, “Microsoft remains committed to responsible and ethical sourcing and takes this issue very seriously.”

“You have the international market that has these perfect standards,” explains Joanne Lebert, the executive director at IMPACT, a nongovernmental organization focused on improving natural resource governance in areas where security and human rights are at risk.

“They want perfect environmental conditions. They want all the development factors taken in, like gender equality and anti-corruption and this and that. They want the perfect package, but that’s not the situation on the ground,” Lebert said.

Watch the video to learn more about why it’s so difficult to rid the supply chain of conflict minerals.

1:59 – What are conflict minerals
4:13 – Efforts to trace minerals
7:45 – The future of conflict minerals

Produced by: Katie Brigham
Edited by: Dain Evans
Supervising Producer: Jeniece Pettitt
Graphics by: Jason Reginato, Christina Locopo

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Why Conflict Minerals Still End Up In Our Electronics

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