In 2006 the movie Blood Diamond came out. For those of you who have not seen the movie it shows the atrocities of diamond mining in the Sierra Leone. Something similar is happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is not the same as the Republic of the Congo. Minerals there are being mined for everyday things we take for granted.
Here is an extremely brief overview of the DRC’s history: Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries European merchants came to the DCR for the abundance of resources, minerals, and slaves. In 1879 the DRC was established as a colony by King Leopold II of Belgium. Under Belgian control millions of Congolese were killed or died due to poor working conditions. It is not until June of 1960 that the DRC becomes independent. In 1996 a civil war started, which drew in some neighboring countries. The war ended in 2003. In 2006 the DRC had their first free elections in 4 decades. Joseph Kabila won the election. The DRC has a history of being a place of corruption and conflict.
The four main minerals being mined there are tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold. These things can be found in automobiles, sports equipment, jewelry, and electronics. Without tantalum phones would be silent, tungsten is what makes phones vibrate, tin is used in circuit boards, and gold coats wiring. The militias are able to get workers by threatening them and their families. Workers are forced to work as a way to “protect” themselves and their families. They are held at gun point and physically forced to work. If this is a not enough to scare workers and keep them in line rape is used as to humiliate and silence workers and their wives. The militias running these mines make millions of dollars from trading conflict minerals. The money made is used to buy weapons such as guns and grenades. The minerals are smuggled into neighboring countries and eventually shipped to Asia where they are refined and mixed in with other minerals from around the world. The minerals are processed and turned into finished products that are distributed around the world.
In 2010 Obama passed the Dodd Frank Consumer Protection Act. This law requires companies to state where the minerals they use in their products come from. As a result the mineral revenue created by militias has been reduced to 65%. IBM has started making conflict free electronics and hopes that in the future they will be able to make all their products with conflict free materials and minerals.
After reading all this it might be kind of hard to relate all this back to what we have learned in class, but there are actually a couple of things that are similar to what we’ve learned. For example Europeans coming in and exploiting resources and labor forces is nothing new. The British came to America, turned it into a colony, and exploited their resources. Another example would be putting something bad into products. People are allowing these big meat and poultry companies to feed their animals things like corn and soy beans, things they should not be eating. So why are they allowing conflict minerals to be put in electronics? One could argue that the meat example is invalid because it is something people are ingesting and it affects their bodies as well, but these conflict minerals are affecting people’s lives and whether or not they are given the right to live.