Friday, June 12, 2009

Cell Phones and the War in Congo

On the verge of yet another new cell phone I thought it would be a good time to speak with my friend, Woody Collins about the conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo. If you need to get caught up on the atrocities happening in the DRC related to technology check out enoughproject and playstation war.


Is Coltan/Tantalum still being mined in Eastern Congo?

WC - Yes, as it's one of the few world sources of this mineral. Congo is the biggest source.

What are the mining conditions like now? Has it improved since some of the stories broke regarding the atrocities that were being committed?

WC - I have not read of any improvements in the mining conditions. Most of the news out of eastern Congo has focused on the renewed conflict between government armed forces and the various armed rebel forces. Also, the world economy has had big negative effect on the legitimate mining industries of cooper and diamonds. Hundreds of thousand of workers are now unemployed. Therefore, I suspect the coltan market is down, too.

Companies should be held liable if they have been a part of this mess but it’s so difficult to follow the trails. Why is it so difficult to track where the metal goes?

WC - Coltan mining is not an organized industry like cooper and diamonds. Most of coltan mines are run by rebel groups in eastern Congo . Therefore, there has not been an industry standard group willing to develop a tracking mechanism like the Kimberly Process for diamonds. But there is some moment towards a tracking mechanism. A German firm is developing a tracking mechanism for or with Congo government approval. I think they predicted summer of 2010 for testing.

I checked at places like Sony and Apple and of course they have what they call “supplier code of conducts” that state they only do business with suppliers who are "upholding the human rights of workers, treating them with dignity and respect, abstaining from indentured labor, not using children under the age of 15, etc…” Is the “code of conduct” working? What does it mean?

WC - That is meaningless statement. Since you can not track the coltan, they can always deny that their suppliers are in violation.

What can individuals do to help?

WC - Individuals need to pressure the manufacturers into doing more to self regulate beyond their current supplier code of conduct. But, nothing is really provable until a tracking mechanism is developed and implemented. However, the chance of someone individually tracking some coltan to Sony or Apple may prompt them to do more.

Indy Star Interview with Woody Collins

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