Techies Chastened to Find Gadgets Fund Congo War

Something awful that Macs and PCs have in common

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On Sunday, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof shined a light on the vicious mineral trade in Congo and its strong ties to global manufacturers of laptops, cell phones and digital cameras. According to Kristof, ruthless Congolese warlords control many of the minerals used in everyday consumer electronics. The sale of these rare minerals, writes Kristof, is funding much of the violence happening in the Congo today.

His column has elicited a surprisingly strong reaction from technology bloggers--a crowd that commonly focuses on hot product releases and startup acquisitions. Commentary after the video:

  • Phones Fund Warlords, writes Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times: "I've never reported on a war more barbaric than Congo's, and it haunts me. In Congo, I've seen women who have been mutilated, children who have been forced to eat their parents' flesh, girls who have been subjected to rapes that destroyed their insides. Warlords finance their predations in part through the sale of mineral ore containing tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold. For example, tantalum from Congo is used to make electrical capacitors that go into phones, computers and gaming devices."
  • We Need to Shape Up, writes Kyle VanHemert at Gizmodo: "It's clear that these supply chains need to be overhauled--something that hasn't gone ignored by the companies who rely on them. And while it's naive to think that manufacturing gadgets with conflict-free tantalum would immediately end Congo's plight, understanding the realities of where these supply chains begin is a necessary step toward truly cleaning them up."
  • They're Not Asking for Much, writes Joey Devilla at Global Nerdy: "The Enough Project says that auditing component supply chains at the smelters to see whether the metal was sources from 'clean' places like Australia or Canada instead of lining the pockets of Congolese warlords would add about one cent to the price of a cellphone, and that this figure originates from within the industry. I'd happily pay a thousand times that for each of my devices - a mere ten bucks - to ensure that I wasn't bankrolling rape and murder.
  • You Can't Trust Mineral Suppliers to Tell the Truth, writes Preston Gralla at Computer World: "Many electronics companies, such as Apple, have said that they aren't buying the conflict minerals. But the truth is that they don't really know whether they're buying them. That's because Apple and others rely on their suppliers to tell them whether the minerals come from Congo. Do you really believe suppliers will tell the truth about that? Of course they won't."
  • It's a Lost Cause, writes Warner Crocker at GottaBeMobile, a mobile technology blog: "The situation in the Congo is so complex, and possibly so out of hand, that legislative action, protests, web pages, and switching suppliers won't just solve the problem... I admire those trying to raise awareness (again, I wasn't aware of this until today), but given human nature and history, I don't see any campaign changing the scenario, unfortunately." Dan Nosowitz at Fast Company adds: "It's certainly a worthy cause, though I doubt tactics like protesting an Apple Store have much impact (besides, perhaps, press attention, which is probably what they're after)."
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