Most consumers do not realize that components in their cell phones, lap top computers and video games are produced from minerals that are often mined by armed groups in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. A new U.S. campaign has been launched to raise awareness about how the mining perpetuates violence and to urge manufacturers to buy only "conflict-free" minerals.
In the past decade, a campaign to raise consumers' awareness about the origin of diamonds mined in conflict zones has spurred the jewelry industry to take steps to buy only so-called "conflict-free" diamonds.
The Enough Project at the Center for American Progress in Washington is hoping its campaign will do the same for electronic items.
"It turns out the purchases of our laptops and cell phones and MP3 players and digital cameras, all these different electronics products, have inside them minerals that are sourced in the Congo that provide the fuel for the deadliest war in world," said John Prendergast, the co-founder of the Enough Project.
The main minerals mined by Congolese armed groups are tungsten, gold, cassiterite from which tin is produced, and tantalum that comes from coltan.
The Enough Project says armed groups in Congo earn about $85 million each year from the tin trade alone.
In Congo, rape and sexual violence is an all too common weapon of war. The armed groups fighting amongst themselves for access to these valuable minerals use sexual violence as an instrument of intimidation and control over local populations.
"We want to lean on the corporations to stop their purchasing practices that actually incite further conflict, incite worse violence against women and girls, and we want the companies to clean up their purchasing practices so that they only buy minerals from countries and places and mines that are not producing conflict," added Prendergast.
John Prendergast says there are many other countries that are rich in these minerals, and manufacturers could buy from them until safeguards are in place and the Congolese mineral industry cleans itself up.
In addition to its public awareness campaign, the Enough Project is asking electronics companies to sign a pledge that they will not purchase conflict minerals. They are also hoping to get legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress that would require companies to disclose where their minerals originated, and create penalties for those who continue buying conflict minerals.