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Mobile phone metals fuelling Congo war

Ecologist

17th February, 2010

Technology companies should be honest with customers about the origin of the metals in their products, says NGO Global Witness

Demand for metals found in mobile phones and computers is fuelling conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to human rights campaigners.  

Global Witness, which investigates the links between conflict and natural resources, said militia groups in the East African country, including the Rwandan-linked FDLR, control much of the trade in minerals. This trade produces the tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold which end up in consumer products like mobile phones.

'These armed groups regularly commit horrific abuses against the civilian population, including mass murder, rape, torture and forced recruitment,' said Global Witness campaigner Daniel Balint-Kurti.

He said it was time for companies to take steps to eliminate conflict minerals from their supply chains.

'This means requiring suppliers that source minerals from DRC to declare exactly which mine the minerals come from, and carrying out spot checks and audits to back up these declarations. If companies cannot be sure that their minerals are conflict-free, they should not be buying them at all.'

Electronics company sanctions

The UN Security Council passed a resolution in December which allowed for asset freezes and travel bans to be imposed on companies that support armed groups in the eastern Congo.

Global Witness suggested that these sanctions could be applied to international electronic companies that do not clean up their supply chain.

The group also urged companies to be honest with consumers about the origin of the components in their products.

'Consumers have the right to know that the products they are buying are not fuelling crimes against humanity,' said Balint-Kurti.

'Electronic brands and other companies that use minerals now have a clear choice between showing leadership or facing public backlash,' he added.

Greenpeace also called for more corporate responsibility when it comes to mineral sourcing.

'There is nothing to stop companies from sourcing tantulum from other places or from recycling. Sony and Nokia are showing an increasing willingness to dig down into their supply chain and other companies should follow,' said Iza Kruszewska of Greenpeace International.

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