Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What is the Human Price of a Mobile Phone?

By Mark Harris, Graduate Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

In the eastern Congo, militias are fighting for control of mines that contain the minerals – tantalum, tungsten, and tin – that go into the casings and circuitry of the mobile phones and electronics (including the computer on which I’m typing this) that are the building blocks of our modern, technology-based lifestyles. When these militias fight, villages are devastated, and women and men are raped and killed to instill terror into the countryside. The militias are then able to take advantage of low-paid or unpaid labor to mine ore (in ways that devastate the environment) and use shady or obscure trade relationships in Rwanda and Uganda that enrich their leaders and cut costs for the manufacturers of electronic components.

The Enough Project and Friends of the Congo are two groups that are raising awareness of this humanitarian crisis. While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made some important commitments about stemming the epidemic of sexual violence in eastern Congo, the conflict will not come to an end until the economic interests that lay behind it are exposed and changed. Recently, a non-governmental organization called Resolve has committed to mapping the supply chains that link the militias to the global market for these conflict minerals, but government action is needed to compel the consumers of the minerals and their raw ores to expose the point of origin of minerals so that more effective action can be taken. The Congo Conflict Minerals Act, which has bipartisan support, would make this happen, but it has languished in Congress since April.

It’s high time that the U.S. government take effective action to stop our electronics from funding the rape of women and the destruction of villages. For more information on what you can do to help end this crisis, you can visit the Enough Project or Friends of the Congo.


  1. Thanks for the post and the links.

  2. Excellent post. I learned a lot from it.