Phones, Computers – The Sad Truth about the Origins of the Minerals Inside

By Renee Blanchard*, Greenpeace – The sad truth about the origins of the minerals inside our phones and computers is getting more attention these days. In August, a Businessweek expose peeled back the curtain on the tiny island of Bangka in Indonesia, where a third of all global tin, a key ingredient for our gadgets, is mined in horrific, life-threatening conditions.

**Photo: The Enough Project | Source: Greenpeace

Other minerals used in our smartphones come from countries in Africa where mining for them can fuel war.

In the US, as part of a financial reform law, all companies must begin disclosing how “conflict-free” their devices really are by 2014.

That’s a great step, though the Securities and Exchange Council (SEC) in charge of the program recently came under scrutiny for taking too lax of a position for its rules governing companies.

Conflict Minerals

This law requires more transparency of electronics companies, requiring the industry to track its supply chain and be more transparent about where and how those suppliers are sourcing precious minerals in the Congo and neighboring countries.

The SEC rule requires companies to disclose this information by May 31, 2014. Industry groups, unfortunately, are fighting these common-sense changes. Earlier this week, the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers asked the US Court of Appeals to review SEC’s rules, arguing that they are too cumbersome for businesses to comply.

Conflict minerals, as they are called, are gaining so much attention because of the conditions under which these minerals are extracted.

As our friends at the Enough Project explain, “The violent conflict in eastern Congo is being facilitated by a trade in conflict minerals that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Armed groups mine and sell the minerals on the international market in order to purchase arms and maintain their control over the region. Tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold—the minerals specified in the SEC’s rules—are critical to industrial and technological products worldwide, including mobile telephones, laptop computers, aircraft, industrial machinery, and digital video recorders.”

The Enough Project

The Enough Project has been working tirelessly on this issue for years. Last month, just before the SEC voted on its new disclosure timeline, the Enough Project released a report that ranked electronics companies on their use of conflict minerals.

At Greenpeace, we know that manufacturing electronics is indeed a dirty business, and not just in the production process. In 2005, Greenpeace launched the Toxic Tech campaign and followed electronics products into dumpsites where toxic chemicals are released into our waterways and the bodies of those that take them apart. We now assess company action on conflict minerals as part of the criteria in Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics.

The Electronics Industry

Ending the social and economic situations that lead to conflict minerals is extraordinarily complex, but the electronics industry continues to prove year after year that it can make substantial changes for the better.

Just take the Green My Apple campaign back in 2007: Apple held firm on its position to make computers with toxic chemicals like PVC for years, but with enough pressure from its customers, it became the first company to eliminate the toxic and unnecessary chemical from its products. Many other companies have followed suit.

*Renee Blanchard’s report was published on Greenpeace on 24 October 2012. Go to Original

Photo: The Enough Project | Source: Greenpeace

2012 Human Wrongs Watch

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